I recently finished reading Swann’s Way, volume one of seven in Remembrances of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time. That volume is 600-something pages. I’m reading a guide at the same time. After each volume, I’m comparing my thoughts with the verdicts delivered by the reading guide. That isn’t exactly the best way to get the most from reading this but as the preparations for reading more literary work. I have my eyes on IQ83 by Haruki Murakami.
That’s a long way away or maybe sooner than I think. Anyway this is a summery/reaction to Swann’s Way and the reading guide the group’s using, Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time: A Reader’s Guide to Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander. The book is divided into three parts. The Overture, Combray, Swann in Love, and Place-names: The Name.
The Overture is a real bore in my mind. There are a few interesting tidbits in there, but forty pages seems overkill for a waking up sequence. It’s long but effectively primes you for the writing style you’re likely to experience. Brevity is a tad more important later on. It never reaches the expectations of today’s rapid gratification.
Combray is the memories Marcel has of his childhood. It details his experiences of visiting his ailing Aunt Léonie in the summers. There’s a lot there about his childhood desires and experiences. The guide refers to Combray as one of best childhood experiences in a novel of this era. Reading through, I noticed a few things. Marcel is ailing from some mysterious condition which I suspect is just getting colds that are quite severe. That sickness reduces his activity considerably. Still, he’d much rather stick his head into books. Marcel attributes good qualities to people he likes and people he would like to be like down the line. These memories Marcel remembers were triggered by eating something he enjoyed in those summers, lime tea and madeleines.
I like to think Marcel and I would be kindred spirits if we ever met. That makes me feel good, and that’s reason enough, but there’s more. I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and that enabled me to distance myself from peers. In addition, I loved reading. That love is what got me into writing. Then, I wanted to be like those charismatic people who can entertain an entire room without breaking out in sweat and make people like them. And I remember my past history to a similar extent. I think we’re pretty similar.
Swann in Love was my favorite part of Swann’s Way. According to the guide, it’s the closest that Proust gets to traditional story structure. I agree. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Swann meets Odette. He doesn’t commit right away. Then, he’s in love with Odette. Swann gets jealous. He asks too many questions and finds difficult answers. In lack of love, he tries with another woman. That’s the plot of Swann in Love.
The beginning of this part was the first time I loved reading this book. It makes me a little sad that the other sections won’t follow the basic plot structure. And a theme of this book is love leads to jealousy. That’s true. Love always comes with some unwelcome jealousy as a bedfellow. That’s especially true if you have abandonment and anxiety issues. Jealousy can make love sweeter by contrast. Working on your self-worth might reduce these issues. Surely possessiveness makes the jealousy worse. That’s a theme in this book that bugs me. Any number of themes bug me, so that’s basically a given with anything I read.
Place-names: The Names wraps up everything. It cross applies the lessons learned in the previous sections of Marcel’s young life in Paris. Then, it echoes the fact much more is going to change.
Each section is like a novel in its own write except the transition sections: Overture and Place-names: The Name. That’s not the way any book is organized these days except memoirs. Because In Search of Lost Time is the very first memoir as far as I know.
That method isn’t acceptable in fiction these days. I know it’s not fair to Marcel Proust, his many fans, and the English literature community to compare a book written something like 120 years ago to stories these days. That comparison is of paramount importance to current writers of fiction trying to learn from Proust. What elements of Remembrance of Things Past can be used to write fiction in the time we live in now? What elements won’t work? For example, putting two storylines in one piece of fiction. They need to smoothly merge from one to the other despite section breaks. Some things can end and be picked up later but never left hanging forever except at the end. Simultaneous story lines are permissible if they’re all pushed together.
I read an example of that recently. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer. The title is uninspiring to me, but the writing is top notch. That story artfully combines numerous storyline to create a synergy more powerful than any one alone. For an example to a story continuing through section breaks check out The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. That’s the best example I can think of off the top of my head.
I didn’t get to my conclusions matching the guide: 4/7. That seems pretty good for a start. I’ll get better by the end of this.
See you around guys.
Cover photo credit: Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash.