Sunday, June 13, 2010

Marcel Proust - In Search of Lost Time

There was quite an extended time, when asked who was my favourite author, I would say 'Marcel Proust'. His major work, In Search of Lost Time (also translated as Remembrance of Things Past) is a monumental work. One of the longest novels in world literature, it is an epic in a different sense to War and Peace. We might call it an aesthetic epic. This is one of the key narrative devices that Proust employs - an exploration of the arts and culture. Swann, one of the main protagonists, at one point hears a phrase from a sonata being played by a pianist at a soirée, and becomes obsessed. This concern with art is paramount for Proust. Proust had a passion for the English aesthete John Ruskin, who himself was a considerable dilettante who dedicate his life to the exploration of art. In Proust's In Search of Lost Time, people are continually being compared to classic works of art, as artists play their way around the stage of this sprawling drama. But it is a drama that is in a sense gentle and soothing (to an extent). I feel the book has a soporific quality. This normally would be said to detract from a book, but the kind of sleep it induces is one of those blissfully calm sleeps that one has a Sunday morning while it is raining outside. This brings me to the second quality of the book - and that is the poetic quality. Their are touching and moving descriptions of light playing amongst trees, wind rustling leaves, moonlight on still nights, and all the sorts of things that the poets of the ages have sung about. This combination of aesthetics and poetry makes In Search of Lost Time a powerful document. But a third ingredient elevates this text to greatness. And that is the psychological insight Proust employs to gather around his characters and their various forays into human drama. Character's words, actions and behaviours are imbued with a sharp clarity of description that gives each a wonderful human quality - a quality that all epic texts display.

Overall In Search of Lost Time stands above almost all of the great works written in the last hundred years. It is an achievement that will defy what time can bring down.

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