Since the original, prewar translation there has been no completely new rendering of the French original into English. This translation brings to the fore a more sharply engaged, comic and lucid Proust. IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME is one of the greatest, most entertaining reading experiences in any language. As the great story unfolds from its magical opening scenes to its devastating end, it is the Penguin Proust that makes Proust accessible to a new generation. Each book is translated by a different, superb translator working under the general editorship of Professor Christopher Prendergast, University of Cambridge.
In part one of this volume, our hero and his family move into the Guermantes Hotel. He becomes enchanted with the Duchess de Guermantes and begins to dream about what her life is like. He starts to plan his day so that he 'accidentally' bumps into her. She realizes what he is doing and despises him. He pays a lengthy visit to Saint-Loup and gets to know SL's friends, and his mistress. He makes his first ever telephone call.
In part two, his beloved grandmother falls ill and dies. Albertine re-enters his life, and he tries to embark on a romance with a mystery woman. He has an interesting encounter with de Charlus again. By the end of the book, he finds himself finally accepted into the high society of the Guermantes family - and it is much more ordinary than he expected it would be.
Proust continues to delve into human minds and behavior. There's a lot of hypocrisy in these books...people who act one way when they are really feeling differently. The narrator exposes them wonderfully.
As usual, Proust's prose is beautiful. And relaxing. I find myself being lulled to dreamland by his words.
I keep mentioning what an EASY read these books are! If you are intrigued by Proust but have been too intimidated to start - just TRY the first one, Swann's Way. You might be surprised.
On the last day of the year, I finished The Guermantes Way, the third volume of Marcel Proust's magnum opus, In Search of Lost Time. At the beginning of the book, nothing much has changed. Our protagonist is a bit older but still the sensitive and self-obsessed youth that we came to know in Swann's Way and In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. He has eschewed the intellectual life, and is attempting to ingratiate himself with the aristocratic Guermantes family. The text is peppered with sharp insights attributed to the narrator but seemingly outside his scope of emotional or intellectual insight. Or perhaps the narrator has far keener powers of perception when it comes to others than he does with himself. Some favorites:
"The alleged 'sensitivity' of neurotic people is matched by their egotism; they cannot abide the flaunting by others of the sufferings to which they pay an ever-increasing attention in themselves."
His impressions of the social pecking order at the theatre:
"For the folding seats on its shore and the forms of the monsters in the stalls were mirrored in those eyes in simple obedience to the laws of optics and according to their angle of incidence, as happens with those two sections of external reality to which, knowing that they do not possess any soul, however rudimentary, that can be considered analogous to our own, we should think ourselves insane to address a smile or a glance: namely, minerals and people to whom we have not been introduced."
And a foreshadowing of what he is to learn of the aristocracy whose company he craves:
"I realised that it is not only the physical world that differs from the aspect in which we see it; that all reality is perhaps equally dissimilar from what we believe ourselves to be directly perceiving and which we compose with the aid of ideas that do not reveal themselves but are none the less efficacious."
The beginning of the book is a trifle frustrating as the reader is delivered much more of the same from the first two volumes. But then, the curtain, both figurative and literal in some cases, is lifted and we see where Proust is to take us next. The aristocracy is exposed as an illusion, that something strange and unknown that may be craved until its true nature is revealed. The social elite have become in many instances financially destitute as well as morally suspect and intellectually pedestrian. The story of the day, the Dreyfus affair, becomes an instrument with which they may exclude their Jewish friends from their inner circle.
As Marcel becomes more and more disillusioned with the life he has chosen for himself, the hand of the writer shows through the text revealing a Proustian belief that great art is created in isolation. Social climbing amidst a vacant and decaying aristocratic set can yield nothing but a time drain whose reversal could yield a creative product of great worth.
There is much to love here. The nearly 100 page long description of one afternoon in the salon of Mme. de Villeparisis is masterful, written as if in real time with all the subtle machinations one expects from Proust. The language as always is entrancing, languorous and lovely. And just at the end, just as one begins to wonder if more of this same loveliness will be required, all of this disillusionment and social strife comes to a head in the story of M. Swann again, and one yearns to see the new direction in which this story might turn. So I will read on. Perhaps the last three volumes in 2010.
Proust is too long-winded for my tastes hence my lowish rating. When I finish reading/listening a bit, I would paraphrase what had happened during that section & the plot, such as it is, was interesting to me but it was like panning for gold to get to it. Neville Jason did a fine job with the narration - it isn't his fault that the book kept sending me to sleep!
This third installment brings our narrator to yet another obsession with a woman for no apparent reason.... he becomes more creeptastic with each novel. The more interesting segments of the novel deal with high society and the narrator's disappointment upon finding that the circle he longs to be in is filled with snobs.
Proust's prose is beautiful and challenging... enough that I need a bit of a break before heading onto then next book in the series.
I sum up 'The Guermantes Way' this way: at one point Proust's narrator suggests that society would "become secretly more hierarchical as it became outwardly more democratic." Shortly afterwards he launches into a long song and dance about how the Duchess de Guermantes performs in public, saying things that are contrary to conventional wisdom almost purely for the purpose of increasing her own notoriety. This kind of double-edged humor reaches its height in the closing pages, which are simultaneously the funniest and must disturbing I've ever read- but look almost completely innocuous at first blush.
This volume is also notable because Proust makes it clear that, for all his perspectivalism when it comes to truth, he believes that a genuine, authentic understanding of each other is possible, because "sometimes in this life, under the stress of an exceptional emotion, people do say what they think."
But even during the narrative, Marcel realized memory’s willfulness and the variation in hues, shapes, pitch and timbre between the actual object and its mental reconstruction. When he encountered an old friend, the facial features were so different from his recollection and reconstruction, for better or for worse pregnant with all the emotions, preoccupation, biases, that he could not match face with voice.
Because recollected sensation can never equate with the actual experience and time, like a patient thief, steals memories a morsel at a time until one day the owner would realize he was ruined, Marcel ultimately would fail to recapture and assemble stolen sensations and decayed seconds and in the end, must create new moments, new sensations and ultimately a new biography, through the synergy between past experiences and creative imagination. From those deceased hours and decayed memories sprouted In Search of Lost Time, not only Proust’s novel but also that of the narrator.
Whether we savor Marcel’s frailness, Swann’s infatuation, Charlus’s pompousness, Franscoise’s independent-mindedness, the sorties’ frivolousness or the social revelation of the Dreyfuss Affair, we can enjoy Proust’s classic without resorting to Marxist or Freudian or Feminist critique. And the sentences, like the serpentine Amazon, seemed to flow unceasingly into the distant horizon carrying with it the sparkling sunlight. Although ascending the novel’s three thousand pages appears precipitous, the effort will be well worth the while and, at the end of the adventure, the reader can rest on the crisp apex and savor time’s transience and memory’s playfulness as if they were alpine zephyrs.