Thursday 17 February 2022

Book Review: In Search of Lost Time by Proust (Modern Classics)

Title: In Search of Lost Time (Vol 1-6 (7))
Author: Marcel Proust
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: (1913-1927) 2003
Pages: approx 3000
Format: Paperback
Genre: Modern Classic
Source: Bought Copy

On the surface a traditional "Bildungsroman" describing the narrator’s journey of self-discovery, this huge and complex book is also a panoramic and richly comic portrait of France in the author’s lifetime, and a profound meditation on the nature of art, love, time, memory and death. But for most readers it is the characters of the novel who loom the largest: Swann and Odette, Monsieur de Charlus, Morel, the Duchesse de Guermantes, Fran├žoise, Saint-Loup and so many others — Giants, as the author calls them, immersed in Time.

"In Search of Lost Time" is a novel in seven volumes. The novel began to take shape in 1909. Proust continued to work on it until his final illness in the autumn of 1922 forced him to break off. Proust established the structure early on, but even after volumes were initially finished he kept adding new material, and edited one volume after another for publication. The last three of the seven volumes contain oversights and fragmentary or unpolished passages as they existed in draft form at the death of the author; the publication of these parts was overseen by his brother Robert. (Synopsis taken from the compiled Modern Library edition)

Twice in the past I've read the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, only to never get around to continuing, so in 2021 I bought all the volumes, so I had them to hand and there was no excuse, and I've finally made it to the end! Overall, this series was enjoyable. The characters were wonderfully drawn and came to life on the page, and there were also plenty of memorable scenes and passages, especially in the final volume. On the odd occasion my attention drifted if a conversation or scene dragged on or felt repetitive with past content, but for the most part I was engaged throughout and I am happy I finally managed to read through it to completion. This is probably one of those books that will offer something new each time you read, especially if you reread it at different stages in your life. For now, though, I am happy to have finished it once. Overall, the series gets four stars from me. If you can face the length and enjoy literature from the turn of the twentieth century, it is well worth a read.

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