135 Journals Book Club: Notes on the journey of reading Proust (The First Six Percent)

25 Apr

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Marcel Proust at age 15 (1887). I am so digging the bowtie. Definitely know what to give my boys for Christmas now. From Wikimedia.

Guess what I have on my Kindle Fire? That’s right, seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s strange and magnificent Remembrance of Things Past, or as it is now more accurately known, In Search of Lost Time (active, not passive, get it?).  I got it for free, and as it has long been one of my ambitions to find out what is so important about eating madeleines and to understand what the BFD is about M. Proust, I am actually starting to read it. This is going to take a while. I have read approximately a kajillion pages and my Kindle informs me that I have read six percent of the Seven Volume set, and only have 36 hours and 15 minutes to go. You would think that someone who had read six percent of something would not feel qualified to write a review. That is true. I am writing a qualified review. Because even at six percent, I feel as if I have learned a lot of things about writing, thinking, and the importance of detail.

 Fight now I will tell you what I’ve learned. The play-by-play, as it were. The narrator of the first book, Swann’s Way, is a high-strung, sensitive boy who dreams of being a writer, but doesn’t know what he wants to write. The first scene of the book is about his intense desire to have his mother give him a good-night kiss while she is busy entertaining their sophisticated and wealthy neighbor, M. Charles Swann. M. Swann has had an “unfortunate marriage” and the narrator’s family haven’t seen much of him recently, certainly not with his wife and daughter (especially because the wife is having an affair with someone else). But he is a lovely and generous man. The boy, remembered by the man he becomes, is semi-aware of the goings-on of the wealthier members of the town of Combray, the country village where the family has their second home, and where all of the action in the first six percent of the book takes place. A number of other characters are introduced—sickly Aunt Leonie, who enjoys lime-flower tisanes (and the narrator loves watching the lime expand in the water), the regal Guermantes family, an earthy and devoted maid, Francoise, and others. Throughout the pages, the narrator wonders about the nature of memory, the importance of small and specific moments. He includes lengthy descriptions of how

 

This is not a conventional book. His pages are not filled with dialog. But there is something compelling about this delicate boy who is constantly seized by violent awareness and sensation. He is almost skinless. The play of wind, the sight of flowers, afflict and attract him with an exquisiteness that is also painful. So do his own imaginings.

 

The power of beautiful things afflicts him. But it is those remembered things that have the most power. He says that nothing in the present can ever be as beautiful as those remembered things. That no flower will ever be as beautiful as the flowers he saw when he went on walks around the village of Combray with his father. And even then, at least on one occasion, he finds a kind of desperate relief from this sensitivity and observation by writing.

 

The memories of the past make me think. They make me want to write. It makes me want to remember exquisite moments.

 

The second part is about Charles Swann’s rather seedy romance with a floozy named Odette. Can’t say this stretch is giving me goosebumps the same way the first part did. But I have faith that things will come together.

 

And in the meantime, I will try to remember that even the most simple moments can seize you with a kind of violent beauty when they are remembered.

 

Writing Prompt: Oh please. You know what this is going to be. What is a haunting, excruciating moment you remember from your childhood?

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