Jason's Reviews > Within a Budding Grove

Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust
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's review
Aug 10, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: à-la-recherche-du-temps-perdu, 2014, reviewed
Read in March, 2014

I like to read books about people’s fucked up relationships more than I like to read about how lovely the flowers smell along the French seaside (unless of course the flowers are a blatant euphemism for something else), so I did not end up rating Within a Budding Grove quite as highly as I rated Swann’s Way.

The first half of the book was great and made true my prediction that the narrator would experience a “Swann–Odette” type of relationship with Gilberte, replete with its ups and downs and its ins and outs. Here the narrator expounds on what his love for Gilberte feels like to him:
When we are in love, our love is too big a thing for us to be able altogether to contain it within ourselves. It radiates towards the loved one, finds there a surface which arrests it, forcing it to return to its starting-point, and it is this repercussion of our own feeling which we call the other’s feelings and which charms us more then than on its outward journey because we do not recognise it as having originated in ourselves.
Much of this section reiterates what the narrator talked a lot about in the first book, which is how the happiness we attain for ourselves is based more in the exhilaration of wanting something than it does in actually possessing it in the end.

The second half of this book finds the narrator on summer vacation with his grandmother in the fictional coastal town of Balbec, which I think is probably in Normandy or something. Until the end where things start getting interesting again with Albertine, a lot of this was flyover country for me. It isn’t that I don’t like reading about rich kids and their grandmother’s snobby friends but none of it had the bite of a good old-fashioned Mme. Verdurin parlor gathering, if you catch my drift.

But then Albertine and her band of friends do enter the picture during the final third of this novel and Proust soars anew, demonstrating his eminence at describing the concept of memory, flirting with our own understanding of it, and putting into words an experience we’ve all had recalling the facial features of a person no longer in our line of sight. Essentially, our memory of the particulars of a person’s face is known to be transient. We begin “forgetting” details the moment we can no longer see the person, our memory of them immediately undergoing distortion, after which only as the person reenters our presence does that memory once again assimilate into the “real thing.”

The same is true, in many ways, for other details which we accumulate by way of the senses. The taste of an orange, for example, is a taste that—for an orange lover—is known to be delicious, and one can be reminded of the fact that the orange is delicious but the actual taste of the orange eludes us until the moment at which we once again bite into one. Before that, and then again immediately after the flavor of it has left our palate, we are able only to rely on our untrustworthy memory of it which we know to morph and elude, and which supplies us with a superficial impression of deliciousness but without the details necessary to constitute what that deliciousness might taste like. With human beings, this cycle, repeating itself as it does, is further confounded by the idea that while our memory of a person fluctuates against the tide of reality, the reality itself is changing. A person in her late teenage years is no longer the same person we see before us in her twenties, and this additional dimension of change complicates our impression of a person to the extent that we have perhaps to admit that we can never really know a person.

Proust also excels with comedy. And I mention this because I think it’s funny to imagine someone finding Proust funny. I don’t know too many people who read Marcel Proust for his comic moments, and I certainly don’t read Marcel Proust for his comic moments, but those moments nevertheless are there. There is a passage in which the narrator is playing a game with Albertine similar to Monkey in the Middle, and he is so preoccupied with the idea of Albertine’s hands touching his that when they suddenly do touch his, he becomes over the moon with excitement and disbelief that this glorious moment is happening to him. Not even a beat later, however, the girl shatters his reveries with a comment like, “Dude, I’ve been trying to give you the ball. Why are you not taking it? Guys, we can’t invite this guy to play with us anymore. He’s a complete tool who doesn’t know how to take the ball when it is handed to him. Seriously, what is wrong with him?”

Reading this book took me a bit longer than I expected, and I will probably not start on Volume III until I have cleared enough time out of my schedule to enjoy it as much as I hope to. Until then, while I know I may begin forgetting the specifics of what I’ve enjoyed so far in In Search of Lost Time, I’m confident I’ll retain at least the impression of the enjoyment it has made on me, which—whether we like to believe so or not—has to be enough.

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Reading Progress

13.0% "Our desires cut across one another, and in this confused existence it is rare for happiness to coincide with the desire that clamoured for it."
35.0% "The chimerical nature of relationships is Proustie’s description of the classic “mind game.” Pretend you’re not interested in Gilberte—in fact, accept her invitation but then cancel at the last minute to show your indifference—and this will reawaken (haha!) her love for you more so than merely declining the invitation from the start (which would be a transparent move serving only to demonstrate your scorn)." 13 comments
60.0% "There is hardly a single action we perform in that phase [of adolescence] which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to annul. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer possess the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but adolescence is the only period in which we learn anything."
83.0% "The narrator's obsession with "the little band" seems somewhat repetitious to me. Hasn't the little devil been down this road before with Gilberte? Yes, an object (or in this case, a human being) holds us in her power during which time she seems unattainable to us, whereas she loses that luster the moment she appears to become aware of us and eventually acquainted with us. Yes, we get it."

Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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Travelling Sunny I'll start reading this in another week or so. Are you STILL reading? It's been, like, a year.

Jason You shush!


Yes, it has been a while. What happens is, I'll read it, and then I'll put it down for a super long time, you know? I actually JUST got back into it. I'm 70% done so if I don't put it down again I should finish it soon.


Travelling Sunny Finally! LOL!

Jason Ha!

Kelly Congrats on making it through! The last bit of this was rough to push through for me. Did you find it so?

Jason Hey, Kelly, sorry for the delay. Thanks! I actually enjoyed the last bit with "the little band" but I do admit to getting a little lost in Balbec.

I recovered, though.

Jason Which volume are you up to now?

message 9: by Kelly (last edited Apr 01, 2014 04:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kelly Sorry for apparently posting the same thing like five times- apparently the "post' button knew that I really wanted to know what you thought!

I really like that you point out his comic moments, because it is so true! Those were some of my favorite moments of relief in the first volume- just when I was getting fed up to here with Odette, Proust busted out a party scene and restored my faith in the whole thing. He's really got a devastatingly cutting tongue. I feel the same way about Virginia Woolf and her quiet sense of humor too- not enough recognized for it.

Oh- and I'm about a third of the way through the third volume. I got bogged down, oddly enough, at a 100-page party scene that has itself become interminable. It's gotten to the point where it's less delightfully humorous than kind of sad and repetitive. I've gotta push myself through the end of it when I pick it up again.

message 10: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto Jason wrote: "Until then, while I know I may begin forgetting the specifics of what I’ve enjoyed so far in In Search of Lost Time, I’m confident I’ll retain at least the impression of the enjoyment it has made on me, which—whether we like to believe so or not—has to be enough."

This does not sound like a ringing endorsement, but I guess it echoes Proust's point, yeah?

Jason No, I don't mean it negatively at all. I think that happens with everything we read (or see on TV or in movies, etc.). That's why often we want to re-read or re-watch something, because we know we LOVED it (or whatever) but the specifics of what we loved elude us, and the only way to recapture it is to re-experience it, so to speak.

Jason I was only trying to tie that concept back in to the point about the elusive memory. But clearly I have failed.

Kelly, I hear you about that triple-post. I ignored it because this website is incredibly dumb sometimes and that happens to me a lot. Thanks for the comment! I do like finding humor in places I don't expect to find it, and I honestly—I really did laugh out loud at that Albertine passage.

Travelling Sunny I'm so glad to read that you found Proust funny. I omitted the words "deadpan humor" from my review thinking nobody would understand. The whole business with him arriving in her room, looking at her throat exposed by her nightgown, and being so completely oblivious to everything else that he almost didn't recognize that she'd pulled the bell string! LOL!

Jason Yeah, there are some very funny moments in Proust.

message 15: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Z Jason, you raise a very interesting point about this title "Within a Budding Grove". For the latest English translation, that title isn't used. And for good reason, it's a rather trite and "blatant euphemism" as you say, and it does perhaps cast an immediate and unfortunate shadow.

Jason Oh, but it wasn't the title that cast any kind of shadow over the book for me; it was more that I much prefer reading about interpersonal relationships—especially as Proust describes them because he is a genius—and this book had that, but it also had pretty flower descriptions which I tend to snooze through.

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