“Will it reach the surface of my limpid consciousness- this memory, this old moment which the attraction of an identical moment has come so far to summon, to move, to raise up from my very depths? I don’t know. Now I no longer feel anything, it has stopped, gone back down perhaps; who knows if it will ever rise up from its darkness again?”
Swann’s Way is an elegantly-written book that consists of past memories and reminiscences. The two main stories in the book follow the narrator’s childhood memories, and the love affair between Swann and Odette. I really enjoyed the childhood narration ; the narrator was so sensitive, very observant, and a lover of nature, books and architecture. His memories were beautifully described. Swann and Odette, on the other hand, were truly a messed-up pair. Swann was quite intriguing; I was especially interested by how he compared women to art pieces and never really saw them for who they truly were.
To me, this book is proof that a novel doesn’t need to have some sort of exceptional storyline in order to be a masterpiece. Nothing that remarkable happens in this book yet this is probably one of the best books I have ever read.
This is the sort of book whose language needs to be savoured. I found myself reading a lot slower than I usually read, and re-reading passages. Proust did things with the language I have never seen done before. I’m not sure I’ll ever see a more lyrical description of asparagus: “... asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world. I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form, who, through the disguise which covered their firm and edible flesh, allowed me to discern in this radiance of earliest dawn, these hinted rainbows, these blue evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognise again when, all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting as the fairies in Shakespeare’s Dream) at transforming my humble chamberpot into a bower of aromatic perfume.”
Proust paints an interesting, sometimes scandalous, and at times amusing, picture of French society. For example, we are introduced to Monsieur Bloch, who comes up with this gem: “ I never allow myself to be influenced either by atmospheric perturbations or by the conventional divisions of time. I would happily instate the use of the opium pipe and the Malay Kris, but I know nothing about the use of these infinitely more pernicious and also insipidly bourgeois implements, the watch and the umbrella.”
If the remaining six volumes of this series are anything like this one, I’m in for a treat. Highly recommended.