I feel the need to explain the gaps in my book reviews recently. I have spent the last two or three weeks catching up on my reading for the ‘Proust book group’ that consists of myself and three other Oxenton residents. We realised, around the end of 2017, that all three of us were reading Proust for the first time. The other two – Pauline and Ann – had both received the complete set of seven novels in French as a gift from their respective husbands. In my case, I had a French edition on Kindle but had decided to read the first two and a half books in English. (For my rationale in doing this, see this post on another blog of mine).
We have been meeting every three months or so, and giving ourselves a chapter – which in Proust is about half a book – to read before each meeting. I have lagged behind on the past two meetings. On one occasion it was because my French edition seemed to have different chapter divisions, so I just hadn’t read far enough! I remedied this by buying another Kindle edition, still without much formatting and with no notes, but more standard in terms of the text. Since starting Du Côté des Guermantes (book 3) I have also purchased the new translation of this book in English. The Kindle editions, even of these recently-published translations, are very good value. The translation is excellent, and there are useful footnotes on cultural and historical points. Christopher Pendergast is the series editor but each book has a different translator. I may well invest in the translations of the other books in this edition, but for now I am taking it one book at a time. Seriously – am I ever going to re-read this novel, in French or English?
So now to the book itself. To me, it defies description. Most people who persevere with it seem to be smitten, as I was from the first book. It is long, yes. The sentences are long and the grammar sometimes convoluted, and although the language is not difficult, you sometimes have to re-read a sentence to make sense of it. The characters are very cleverly and compellingly written, and I am beginning to see a plot developing. I have heard that plot is very important in this book, and that it is satisfyingly unravelled at the end. For now, just keeping up with the characters is a challenge, and I was excited to find a website that illuminates and cross-references them, indexing them throughout the work.
There is a part of me that would love to push on through the remaining four-and-a-half books uninterrupted by other reading. But I don’t think I can bear to leave my pile of to-read books, and all the other reading that might come my way, while I do this. So it is going to be a case of ‘splurging’ on Proust now and again. The book group has the beneficial effect of making me do this, and also encouraging me to read it in French. I do really hope I will finish the novel in the next few years.