À la recherche du temps perdu (Parts 1-4)

I would have thought that after over a hundred hours listening to In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust that starting a post about it would be easier. I seem to be most focused on how much closer I am to finishing. (For those keeping track along with me, I have 33 hours left and then book seven to read in paperback. I am currently paused before starting book five, The Captive.) If you include that I first listened to Swann’s Way and Within a Budding Grove last Winter, that’s slightly over 150 hours of Proust I’ve heard within the last year. It is not entirely about reaching the end. I am attempting to digest it all.

Paris, France

I can say that Swann’s Way made much more of an impact the second time around. Once I had a better idea of whom Marcel was growing up to be, revisiting his childhood made more of an impression. It almost seems worth it to read Time Regained (part VII) and then backtrack to V and VI. Is that some kind of heresy? Maybe not. I imagine that Proust had a fairly good idea on how his story was going to end before he got started, given his protagonist was loosely based upon himself. It may bring me closer to the sense of nostalgia that drove him to start writing in the first place.

I feel like I am currently paused at the silliest point in the protagonists’ life. For me, Marcel is not a very likeable as a young man. He’s obsessive, duplicitous, manipulative, and selfish. I am hoping that he will grow up and become more tolerable soon. For example, there is a moment where Marcel is traveling with his girlfriend Albertine. Also present in the scene are two male friends of his. One friend is asking him to step away from Albertine to greet his dying father, while the other is near enough that Albertine may be drawn into conversation with him while Marcel is away. Marcel does not trust either his friend or Albertine, so he declines the request. Marcel knows that refusing his friend will be hurtful. He knows that how the situation looks will cause the other man insult. However, Marcel snubs his friend with the aim of controlling his girlfriend, and decides it is better to let the friendship die than to find a way to explain his reticence.

To me, this means they were never actually friends as Marcel purports. It means that Marcel ought not be attached to Albertine, or the friend he trusts so little with her. These superficial relationships appear to be largely underscored by Marcel’s lack of confidence which he tries to shroud with indifference and pretense. What I await is for Marcel to apply his keen gift for insight upon himself. Why, when he feels certain that Albertine is at least bisexual, is he maddened with jealousy but also seriously considering leaving her for her friend Andrée? Why does he hop from clinging to his mother, his servant Françoise, his grandmother, to Gilberte, Bloch, Albertine, etc? Marcel will claim that he does just fine on his own once he’s been left to his own devices. However, he very clearly yearns to be fawned over, looked after, and admired.

What else is an aristocratic Frenchman to in the early 1900s to do?

I do like that Marcel’s insights into high society can be biting. After all, this scathing adroitness is why many people like reading Jonathan Swift. I’ve been enjoying Neville Jason as narrator. I’ve been saddened that this allegedly gay man (Marcel, protagonist) apparently felt the need to repress his true self in favor of the flippant dalliances society expected of him. I have been agitated twice now (part III and IV) that the pacing of these novels seems to malinger until the very end. (Swann’s Way, part one, is thus far the best paced of the first four parts in my opinion.)

Even so, there are countless moments that I have laughed aloud, smirked at shrewd remarks, and have even shared instances of particular amusement with others as I’ve listened along. Sometimes it is a matter of minutes between a chuckle and snort; Sometimes hours. I do feel as though it has been worth my time, even despite my reservations.

It has been quite the journey, reading À la recherche du temps perdu. I’d like to hope that maybe the experience has helped me to read people better. I imagine that when I approach the last three parts of this novel, it will be with this goal in mind. For now, I’m going to let parts one through four settle in my mind. (When “taking a breather” before the next part involves short stories by Dostoevsky, then its probably time to step back for a bit.)

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