I really don’t know what to say about this. My Proust project has been pretty much separate from the rest of my reading. I’ve always had an idea that In Search of Lost Time was something that I’d only appreciate in late middle age, like string quartets and the operas of Wagner. (I’m not doing very well on the latter two categories, I’ll admit.) So I guess I thought it was time. I’d tried before, and gotten maybe midway through the second volume, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. This time around I thought I’d try it in French, and that has been the magic touch. I found it unbearably slow going in English. It’s even slower in French, but I expect it to be, and there’s a great deal of pleasure in puzzling out the sentences, matching up the pronouns and antecedents, threading back half a page to pick up the subject of a verb. Add to this the fact that I’m reading at at night, before I go to sleep, and that it functions almost as well as Ambien. No wonder it’s taken me four months to get through it.
But I’m enjoying it mightily. I got hold of a 1970s three-volume Pléiade edition, with its brown leather cover and yellow ribbon markers, and thin strong paper. Very satisfying to hold. And the contents have the same quality of sensory satisfaction. There’s not much of a discernible plot. For so many pages (months, in my reading) the narrator was just trying to get to sleep — like me! There was real enchantment in settling down at night into this sea of words.
Of course I’m not very sharp at 10 p.m. Or is it that my critical faculty is suspended for this book? (Books — I do intend to read the whole thing, though it will probably take a couple of years.) Probably the most effective way to do it would be to circle back around right now and read Swann’s Way again, to see if I can get a grip on the structure. As a small-picture person, I am overwhelmed by the scope of this thing. Imagine, then, my excitement when on the penultimate page, Proust refers both backward to earlier in his tale and forward, to “instants like those when (as we will see later on) I was unable to discover the pleasures that I desired.” At least the author was in charge. That reassured me. And, yes, I did discern the parallels between the narrator’s obsession with Gilberte and Swann’s obsession with Odette. I got it that Proust is exploring the slippery quality of perception and memory. But what I look forward to every night is entering his incredibly sensual world, vivid with sights and odors and gossip and fabrics and the quality of light slanting through an old pane of glass.