El's Reviews > Remembrance of Things Past: Volume I - Swann's Way & Within a Budding Grove

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
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's review
May 13, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: 20th-centurylit-early, big-effing-books, 1001-books-list, permanent-collection, proust, wanderlust
Read 2 times. Last read May 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011.

It seems totally appropriate to finish this re-read of the first volume (which sounds completely pretentious, right? Like who reads Proust more than once?) of Proust on the last day of the year. Here we are finishing up the last of the Artist Formerly Known as 2011 and I finished Proust (well, the first volume anyway). It feels good, really. The end of the year is all about reflection and internal reevaluation and Oprah and shit, and Proust is about those things too. (Maybe not Oprah, but try to keep up with me here.)

There's no good way to give a summary of a behemoth like this. These are the first two books in Proust's series, and there's so much going on that it's nearly impossible to "summarize". Is it a coming-of-age story? Pretty much. But this blows your general coming-of-age novel out of the freaking water. Proust just played Battleship on your ass!

I first read this book in the spring of 2005. I remember the time well. Or, rather, I remember parts of the time well. I had just had surgery and was totally out of commission for a few months. It was great only in the sense that I could get caught up on my reading. But I was also in a smidge of pain and was prescribed Percocet. Sure, yeah, let's read Proust while high on painkillers! Good idea!

I do remember the general feeling I had reading it in 2005, but it was a pretty superficial reading. I didn't take notes, I didn't look things up. I really just would read until I passed out. And then I would wake up and pick up reading wherever I thought I left off, which in the case of Proust meant it was likely I would just start reading in the middle of a sentence. Not the best way to read Proust. Interesting note: I talked to my boyfriend's sister on the phone for the very first time while reading Proust and popping Percocet. She would never remember that, and I don't remember the conversation we had, but it was probably really awkward since she had met me just once at that point and didn't know I was convalescing in his bed. Yeah, hi, I'm your brother's drug-addled woman. Nice to talk to you again, okay, I'm hanging up now...

See? Proust makes me remember things.

But this second reading has been so much more fun. I started this little project several months ago, and then I took a really break over the summer when I got food poisoning and it was basically too hot outside to read Proust. I have a Proust notebook, no joke. I wrote down everything this time. Quotes I liked, things I didn't understand, things I didn't understand and then looked up and then wrote down in my notebook, whatever. Impressions and shit. Because that's who I am. I write in notebooks.

I thought Swann's Way was pretty incredible. Swann is only slightly obsessed with Odette, and it's not at all creepy.
But, now that he was in love with Odette, all this changed; to share her sympathies, to strive to be one with her in spirit, was a task so attractive that he tried to find enjoyment in the things that she liked, and did find a pleasure, not only in imitating her habits but in adopting her opinions, which was all the deeper because, as those habits and opinions had no roots in his intelligence they reminded him only of his love, for the sake of which he had preferred them to his own. [...], it was for the pleasure of being initiated into every one of Odette's ideas and fancies, of feeling that he had an equal share in all her tastes. (p 269)

Hey, buddy, ever hear of breathing space? Jeez. You're practically the guy that The Police were talking about when they wrote that song.

He also made that Edward guy not seem to be so creepy by standing over Bella's bed. Well, maybe not. That was pretty messed up. But Swann probably would rate in the Top Five Creepers List. (And by that I mean Proust's Swann. Not Bella Swann. Oh man, this is confusing. TWILIGHT IS NOTHING LIKE PROUST. Jeez.)

The Narrator in Within a Budding Grove wasn't quite as freaky but he had his own share of lady issues. His were more of the Who Should I Bang variety, however. He had quite a list towards the end of the book, and he reflected on them all quite extensively.

To make a long story short it sort of reminded me of Flatliners - you remember William Baldwin's character, and how he was a huge womanizer? After he "goes under" and "comes back", what "he brought back with him" were all his women, right? It was sort of an artsy b&w montage of all the women he had loved over the years, from the moment of his birth. That's what I thought about reading Within a Budding Grove. Except the Narrator was just slutting his heart around; I'm not sure he knew yet what to do with his equipment at that point, unlike William Baldwin as Dr. Joe Hurley.

Bizarre Flatliners connection aside, I would love to be able to pick Proust's mind. Dude, I had to Google practically everything, and I think I'm a fairly intelligent person (especially when I'm not chomping on Percocet). This predates Google by a lot, which makes me cower in awe in the presence of a mind like Proust's. He had a lot of thoughts, and a whole hell of a lot of feelings. Proust was a Feeling Monster. And then he made me Feel too. Since when do I care about stalkers in literature the way I cared about Swann? Since when do I care about emotional sluts like The Narrator? Normally I'd be screaming at them to grow a pair, but no. Here I was, wishing I had a shrub of hawthorn to touch fondly and tell all my secrets to.

But that kind of thing could get my ass beat in this town. The only thing I should be touching fondly is the Terrible Towel and some beer. Proust is a bit more my style. But he's dead, I'm not French, and as far as I know, there's no hawthorn in my neighborhood. So for now I'll just mollify myself with the fact that there are more Proust books for me to read, and more reflections for me to make.

And on that note, I hope 2012 is better for me and a few other people I know. Besides that pesky Mayan prophecy thing, I mean.

TIP: If you're reading Proust, I highly suggest having a copy of Paintings in Proust: A Visual Companion to In Search of Lost Time by Eric Karpeles on hand. It's not required reading, certainly. But it totally enhanced my reading. If you're a dork for Proust and a dork for art, you'd be an idiot to not have Karpeles at your side.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
May 13, 2007 – Shelved
June 30, 2007 – Shelved as: 20th-centurylit-early
March 23, 2011 – Shelved as: big-effing-books
May 1, 2011 – Started Reading
May 1, 2011 –
page 18
May 3, 2011 –
page 77
7.29% "Proust makes me hungry for an elaborate feast."
May 9, 2011 –
page 162
May 11, 2011 –
page 204
May 16, 2011 –
page 297
May 30, 2011 –
page 297
28.13% "The book is downstairs so I don't know which page I'm on - but I finished Swann's Way the other night and am going to start Within the Budding Grove this evening. I think."
June 22, 2011 –
page 588
December 29, 2011 –
page 740
70.08% "Can anyone even believe I'm still reading this? I can't. This is the longest I've ever taken with a single re-read. In my defense I'm stopping every other sentence/paragraph or two to look something up. It's not necessary but it's totally enriching my reading. Most recent look-up: Tuscan Primitives."
December 29, 2011 –
page 845
80.02% "Last look-ups for the night: "pepla" and "fandangle". "'Come, draw closer yoru pepla with the fair clasps. What's all this fandangle? Does your mother know you're out?'""
December 30, 2011 –
page 900
85.23% "It's a real countdown. Will I finish this before the new year?"
December 30, 2011 –
page 978
92.61% "Latest look-up: I needed a refresher that the characters Alceste and Philinte are from The Misanthrope."
December 31, 2011 – Shelved as: 1001-books-list
December 31, 2011 – Shelved as: permanent-collection
December 31, 2011 – Shelved as: proust
December 31, 2011 – Shelved as: wanderlust
December 31, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by K.D. (new)

K.D. Absolutely Jealous. I have the 3 thick volumes but I am not sure when will I have the motivation to start!

message 2: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El I think you'll like it once you do start, K.D. I find it rather lyrical and hypnotic.

message 3: by TK421 (new)

TK421 I own this but could never get myself to read it. I look forward to your review.

message 4: by Jason (new)

Jason Oh my god this review is awesome.

message 5: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El Hah, thanks, Jason!

Eventually I'll get to the next volume of Proust.

message 6: by Jason (last edited Jan 15, 2013 12:09PM) (new)

Jason If you like Group Reads (which sometimes can feel like mandatory Saturday school (and not the fun Breakfast Club kind)), there's one that's doing the whole ISOLT in 2013; like a volume every other month-ish. You should consider it if you're interested.

message 7: by El (new) - rated it 5 stars

El Oh, yeah, I did join that group. But I recently dropped out - not because I don't like the group, but because I wasn't able to give it the attention it deserves. And I wasn't certain I'd be able to read along with the group, and whoa, I realized I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I might pop back in when they get to where I left off, depending on how things are going for me then.

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