Friday 1 December 2017

Swann’s Way

November 2017

OK then. Yes. What to say about this, apart from that the very act of reading it is something of an exercise in eating my own words?

What new is there to add to In Search of Lost Time by this point? What extra insight or comedy remains to be mined from noting that this is a book which frequently contains paragraphs that are more than three pages long but contain fewer than seven sentences?

There’s my own reaction, I guess. I hadn’t banked on this being funny at all, let alone as often as it is. This is there weird contradiction that’s come to define the book for me: Proust is clearly well capable of skewering characters in a handful of lines (not least the Dickensian Verdurins), or expertly setting up a nicely acidic punchline (see below), but both the narrator of the first section and the eponymous Swann, whose story makes the second, every really emerge in their own rights. Both are blurred as characters, swimming as they do vaguely out of vision, obscured by the endless, digressive, interminable sentences Proust uses to narrate their interior lives. “Show don’t tell,” is one of those rules that exists mainly to be broken, but when comparing the clarity with which Prosut’s dialogue captures his characters to the blurred vagueness with which his narration obscures them, you can’t help appreciating why it exists in the first place.

Though without a natural gift for music, she had had lessons fifteen years earlier from a piano teacher of the Faubourg Saint-Germain, a woman of genius who at the end of her life had been reduced to poverty and had returned, at the age of seventy, to giving piano lessons, to the daughters and granddaughters of her old pupils. She was dead now.

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