“In Search of Lost Time” by Marcel Proust
Book Title: In Search of Lost Time
Author: Marcel Proust
This is a major novel, not merely for its size, but for its effect upon the reader, and also for the influence it had on the rest of twentieth century literature following its publication. The prose is so purple, so elaborate, that one often has to re-read passages in order carefully follow the path that the words take in forming a stream of consciousness.
Originally translated as “Remembrance of Things Past” but of late the title A la recherche du temps perdu is translated more literally as In Search of Lost Time, it is a seven volume novel which covers the life of the main character, otherwise referred to as, however seldom, Marcel. This Marcel is separate from the Marcel Proust who wrote the novel on his deathbed over the last decade of his life, but all the same, there are similarities between the real Marcel and the fictional Marcel. Both Marcels were prolific society figures, frequenting the most popular salons of their time and observing, with amazing alacrity and piercing insight, the most simplest to the most complex actions of the members of an aristocracy that Proust both revels in and is disenchanted with.
The first novel in the series, Swann’s Way, starts with Proust remembering his early childhood. Proust goes on, for fifty pages, with great perspicacity, about how, as a young boy, he could not get to sleep because his mother had not kissed him goodnight. And yet this section is really only a tiny part of an overture to the rest of the story – but is it really a story? One cannot dilute this novel into an obsession with plot. It is really more than that, for this is a search for lost time, a series of memories, the very stream of consciousness of this man, that we are given.
This novel is a masterpiece of form, of writing, and of content most of all. Having read thus far up to the fourth book, I can safely say that it is not possible to stop. It is not necessarily an easy read, for Proust can often digress on subjects for pages at a time, even devote whole chapters to discussing that which fascinates him, such as the start of the fourth book, which contains a prose poem on homosexual love, but those digressions are what make this such an interesting read. I have a friend who once said that, should he ever write a novel, he would write a novel about life. Proust’s novel is precisely what I imagined my friend to be describing – it is, for me, the quintessential novel about life.