You drink your coffee and,
I sip my tea and we’re,
sitting here, playing so cool thinking “what will be, will be”

For some reason, a month or two back, I took it upon myself to read À la recherche du temps perdu. The whole of it. The new translation, all six volumes. All six volumes making up one novel. Now, I didn’t know much of Proust really, all just culturally received wisdom. Like it was long. (It is.) That he uses long sentences (he does.) That is is hard work. (It isn’t.) That is is worthy. (It is.) But I haven’t looked at any literary criticism about it (hahahahahha), and indeed, the only thing I did know before reading it was to choose the one with the big tits. Always a good call, that.

It’s getting kinda late now.
I wonder if you’ll stay now, stay now, stay now, stay now or,
will you just politely say “goodnight”.

Having now finished it all, I thought I would try and share some of my journey through it all. The misconceptions blown away, the joy, the scale and effort of the sequences.First off, what I wasn’t prepared for was that lots of it was funny. To be honest, I wasn’t actually sure what it was all about, aside from something to do with French society in the late 1890s. And it is about that, but it is so much more than that. That is the backdrop for the human interactions, but really it is a life, a life journeying through the echelons of the Faubourg Saint-Germain. But that isn’t the thing that struck me the most on thinking back over the 3200-odd pages of this single novel.

I move a little closer to you,
not knowing quite what to do and I’m,
feeling all fingers and thumbs.
I spill my tea, oh silly me!

So what struck me the most? Well. He writes exactly the way I think. (Aside from him writing the way I write. Or me attempting to write like him, even subconsciously, without ever having read him before. My style is, in my head, tending towards Proustianism. And if that is even remotely true, it makes me very happy.) Take his concerns when trying to get in with the Duchesse de Guermantes, and in different yet similar ways, Gilberte, and later Albertine. The whole (teenage) male psyche wrapped up perfectly in elegant prose. The fumbling attempts at looking aloof and desirable, the misinterpreted signals, the angst and worry at trying to understand the female mindset, all is so well cast, so well judged it is like remembering what it was like when you were that age. The insight is cutting, but witty and overall funny. Truly there are some memorable comic scenes. (My favourite from the early books is when he is listening to Elstir, the painter, talk of the redemption of art (oh, how it all ties together), how to see, and how to look, and giving an insight to the narrator of how to progress in his education. So he listens. Or sort of listens, as at the end of the painter’s soliloquy, he snaps back to his present situation, having spent the whole time thinking about bewbz. Or the Temple of Shamelessness farce, that also stands out.)

It’s getting kinda late now.
I wonder if you’ll stay now, stay now, stay now, stay now or,
will you just politely say “goodnight”.

There are hundreds of characters, and plenty of names. French names, which I will never say aloud, as I will make a fool of myself trying. All of human life is indeed there, the grotesque (and the redeemed grotesque), the vain (and the fallen vain), the climbers (and the outcasts), beautifully rendered through Marcel’s eyes. There is no attempt to make them rounded characters, they are characters as seen by the narrator. So at different times in his life he sees them differently, whether it was when he regains time, or during his youthful arrogance.M de Charlus, Gilberte, Odette and Mme Verdurin, as they play a major part in the cycle. Albertine gets re-evaluated as well, but in a different way, through the whispers and the lies of others.

And then we touch; much too much
this moment has been waiting for a long, long time.
It makes me shiver, makesmakes me quiver,
This moment I am so unsure, this moment I have waited for
is it someting you’ve been waiting for?
Waiting for too?

And Albertine overshadows the middle section, as again the very emotions we feel are laid out. The jealousy, the not knowning what she (and by extension all females) thinks, the second-guessing, attempts at controlling the situation and her, the nervous intentions and total exasperation at interacting with someone so totally alien in thought. Whole sections, which he admits make him look bad, this is an honest account of his thinking, are taken with his guilt and angst. But he has the introspection to bring us along with him, we feel his irrationality and how he struggles to cope with his feelings.

But not only the personal interactions, there are the social (on the grand sweeping scale), the political and the class ones, too. For this is an era far removed from us here, but we can still relate to it all, as he is inside his mind, and explaining the way also think. Even if we don’t get invited to upmarket society salons with Ducs and Princesses.There is history (and here you do need to keep referring to the copious notes, else you lose which General was lying in the Dreyfus affair, again the whole idea tied up with regaining time), and the curtain falling on the First World War, the epoch-shifting occurances, and lastly the passing on from one generation to the other, and the whole fabric of the old guard lost on the new.

Take of your eyes, bare your soul.
Gather me to you and make me whole.
Tell me your secrets, sing me the song.
Sing it to me in the silent tongue

The descriptions of what people wear, how it affects their personality, the inverts, the little gang, the houses, the salons, Venice, Morel, Bloch, Racine, literature, art. The redemption of art.

Indeed, the redemption of art. The final novel unwinds in a haze of self-awareness, that we don’t notice the passing of our own time (and there are some more fine comic moments in here) whereas we do in others, and quarrels are forgotten as we forget others. Or not so much forget, as leave them as single points in time, when we last saw them, and not the old person in front of us. And his realisation that he isn’t alone, that others see him in this way.The stages of man laid out perfectly, each book in the novel contributing something more to the whole.

It’s getting kinda late now.
I wonder if you’ll stay now, stay now, stay now, stay now or,
will you just politely say “goodnight”

Proust illuminated my life by illuminating his own. The human condition isn’t so different, as he says, between then and the Second Empire, between the highest Prince and the lowest shirt maker. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s liking, the long tortuous overwrought prose, interjections and asides (see why I like it?) but it is great. Funny, sad, intricate, delicate, brutal, thoughtful, insightful and just damned great. The more I think on it, the more I could write here. I could go on with all the highlights, the threads that run through it all, the sheer scale of his achievement. But I won’t. Suffice to say, this has shot up my list of favourite novels. Don’t listen to whomever tells you it is hard work, and pointless. It is art. And Marcel can’t be afforded a higher compliment than that.

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