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.
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.
Despite reviews I have read that claim the translator of the final volume does not do as good a job as Moncrieff does on all the other ones, I found this volume refreshing in its different tone, though after half way through I ceased to notice any of the differences in style between the two that were apparent to begin with.
Why this book is called time regained escaped me until very near the end, as most of this volume is about the way time has fled Proust, who realises he has become old. Much of the book consists of his lamentations of departed youth; a more relevant title that suggested itself to me would simply be “Temps Disparu”, Time Disappeared, as his search for lost time throughout the book has ended in the lost time not in a reality being found, with the revelation that he has little time left. But, in some senses, he does find his lost time, in one way in his observation that time repeats itself, that situations occur again, are never annihilated for good, and in a second sense, that he finally manages to pin down his lost time by recording it all in his novel, which ends at the point that he begins to write it.
I was beginning to suspect, at some point nearing the end of the novel, that I would be disappointed with its conclusion, but after spending no time reflecting upon it, having only just finished it, it is quite clear that the ending is fitting to the work, and that it makes worth while the reading of the whole.
The shocking thing that you discover - or at least that I discovered - in this book is how little of the narrator's life is actually portrayed in the text. The text is so nuanced and subtle that I often was left with the impression that I completely knew the character, but that just isn't the case. We see in the part that the narrator has suddenly gotten old...hard to say how old...in his 50's I think. And retrospectively, we see that he may have been older in the past several books than we thought.
In passing he mentions having fought duels and his military service. These things don't jive with the picture of the narrator that I had in my mind, but that is because we cannot really know the narrator based on the brief - though lengthy in text - encounters that we've had with him. Each part of the larger work only really describes a moment or an afternoon or a summer in the entire life of the character.
I am sad that I am finished and have no more Proust to look forward to.
Theory aside, this is one of the stronger volumes on its own terms- the war adds spice, there's no denying it, and, well, there's lots more BDSM.
Analysis of society, and the motivations of individuals, is a central theme throughout the work. In this volume, Marcel also reflects on how memories of the same event can vary widely from person to person, and how decisions or actions that seem inconsequential can have long-term effects:
But the truth, even more, is that life is perpetually weaving fresh threads which link one individual and one event to another, and that these threads are crossed and recrossed, doubled and redoubled to thicken the web, so that between any slightest point of our past and all the others a rich network of memories gives us an almost infinite variety of communicating paths to choose from.
And finally, as Proust closes a circle by connecting back to the first pages of In Search of Lost Time, I began to grasp the genius of this work. I say “began” because I sense that more insight can be gained by re-reading Proust from time to time. Will I do so? Only time will tell. For now I am perfectly happy to have read it once
I guess my final impression is that Proust's novel is undeniably an important one, a classic whose major flaws are ones of length and repetition. I don't agree with all those Proust "experts" who call it a comic masterpiece or one of the funniest books ever written. Yes, it has wit, but you aren't going to find any knee-slappers here. You don't find this book on any of those lists of funniest books. I tried to find some critics who had written about the book's flaws. Apparently there aren't any. There are only superlatives -- it's got everything, you know, and if you haven't realized that, then maybe you need to read the whole 3,300 pages a few more times. Sure thing...
In the final installment, our narrator attends a party after decades absence from the social scene to find with shock that they have all aged considerably, and hence so has he. He spends much of the novel trying to reconcile his vision of these people with the differing characters they are now.
Even though "In Search of Lost Time" was very challenging and slow going for me, I am so very glad to have read the series. It is certainly deserving of its reputation as one of the great modern novels.