Musings on Proust, Part 2


Finished Du coté de chez Swann last night….

Okay, I’m beginning to wonder whether I feel about Proust (so far, having read one volume out of seven, each of which is subdivided into books, or perhaps chapters, or perhaps narratives that drift along in unconscious parallel like elderly swans as they paddle listlessly through the muck of a stagnant pond, or the sweet reek of hawthorns as it mingles with the bouquet of violets, always violets, in Odette’s corsage–Odette, whom you thought you were rid of at the end of book two of volume one, but who has suddenly re-appeared married to Swann and having borne a child for M to obsess over before being distracted by his own damned horticultural ecstasies) as Hemingway felt about Dostoevsky: that he is a great writer, but not a good writer.

Oh, how his sentences elongate like taffy at a seaside stand, or like noodles being stretched in a steamy window in Chinatown, looping back on themselves, glutinous and sweet, or like the long days of summer when Gilberte has left Paris and there is only the echo of her indifference to comfort you, till suddenly a verb appears, and then an object, cowering in fear of the baleful finality of a full stop, when at last you can breathe.

Then a spate of snappy dialogue worthy of any of the best crime writers, and then passages of exalted sensation, then poignant musings on the sweet poison of memories, and then, at last, the final words of the story, if it is a story, and you can rest a moment before going on….

Overall, I liked it, once I accepted that this is not Zola or Simenon but a very, very different writer, and that you must wait for the grace of a finished sentence while M works his way through his obsessions with his mother, with Swann, with Gilberte, with flowers, and with subordinate clauses.

I make fun of it—even while reading–but,having accepted that Proust is Proust and not another writer, I am able to enter into the passions, the poignancy, and the slow symphonic resolutions that he favors. There is great writing hidden in those bad sentences. I’ll take a break now and read something else, but I will return.Volume two is waiting for me, as M lurks in the Bois hoping to catch a glimpse of Gilberte’s mother.

If nothing else, I’ve got to see why Swann went back to Odette, who, despite M’s obsession, is not looking like a very good choice for a life partner….