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In Search of Lost Time – Review

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Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1: The Way by Swann’s is a densely descriptive, prose-heavy analysis of social mores, veiled human frailty, familial and romantic love, anxiety, jealousy and the relationship between memory, place and time. It is told through the eyes of a tortuously sensitive boy and, later, through the amorous encounters of a socially mobile man within the fickle, pretentious and stifling world of the Parisian bourgeoisie during La Belle Epoque, a period in French society that lasted from 1871 to 1914.

I must be honest and reveal myself a heathen. It took me two months to plough through this novel with pen poised in hand and an intense furrowing of the brow. After the first fifty pages, I shelved Proust for a month, in favour of Hilary Mantel. À la recherche du temps perdu was not a natural pleasure for me by any stretch. I have little interest in the tribulations of well-to-do people deeply aware of and concerned with social class. The turgidity of Proust’s lengthy descriptions of the idiosyncrasies of characters at a dinner party, are somewhat exhausting after ten pages of facial tics and acted laughter, the hidden meanings of which, in the end, do not seem of any particular consequence.

Yet, I persisted. The exquisite, descriptive vocabulary retains a nowness; a timeless quality.  And Proust’s meticulous, academic social observations reveal profound insights into the relationship between outward human behaviour and inner thought.  He reveals a tender cynicism about the contrivances of his characters and a witty self-awareness about the inherent sense of superiority and associated cruelties that are a by-product of his social standing.

The central theme of lost time encapsulated in the spongy joys of a tea-soaked madeleine is touched so lightly that it lingers delicately in the back of the mind soothing numerous angst-ridden tussles between social constraint and individual complexity. And Proust maintains a deeply personal and confiding tone that leaves you feeling you know a part of him, you have seen a glimmer of his inner world and most intimate worries. It is odd but true that I even think the author’s vulnerability triggered my well-buried maternal instincts.

Within the novel, Proust considers his relationship to the inner sanctum of books and exterior reality that presents a concreteness which ‘dissipates’ when he tries to make contact with it. He writes: ‘…as an incandescent body brought near a damp object never touches its wetness because it is always preceded by a zone of evaporation.’ The pages are bubbling over with this type of sumptuously visceral analogy that enables you to see and feel the intended sentiment.

Proust describes an assimilation of a book into a reader’s consciousness as he or she constructs characters from pieces of the writer’s creation; a meeting of minds, an exchange across time and space. His rigorous examination of the nature of literature reminds me that the written word is a living thing to be altered and interpreted differently by each and every reader within their own location and from their own construction of reality so that you might see through thine eyes what I have seen through mine.

I read In Search of Lost Time, despite my initial hurdles with the density of the text and disinterest in the staging of the novel, because I thought I could learn something from one of the most revered authors of the 20th century and I hoped it might make me a better writer. I leave the book on the shelf in the study/laundry/guest room, feeling enlightened, inspired and grateful that I didn’t give in.

So after all, as you read Proust and absorb a character, such as Swann’s lover, Odette de Crecy, and your mind shifts between the nuances of her elusive personality, remember you are sitting beneath a virtual blossoming chestnut tree with a French novelist, one of the greatest literary figures of our time, creating lives and building worlds.

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Avenue with Flowering Chestnut Trees at Arles, Vincent van Gogh, 1889

Image 1 source – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9713855/All-of-Proust-on-audiobook-Time-to-go-to-bed-early.html

Image 2 source – http://www.wikiart.org/en/vincent-van-gogh/avenue-with-flowering-chestnut-trees-at-arles-1889

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The Little Prince – Review

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Little Prince is a magical tale about a pilot who crashes his plane in the Sahara and meets a boy; a little Prince. The pilot is enchanted by the sweet enigmatic boy and they soon become friends. The little Prince reveals his origins and shares his innocent wisdom. The pilot is slowly reconnected with a long-forgotten way of seeing; a child’s truth that he had learnt to suppress in order to become a socially acceptable adult concerned solely with ‘matters of consequence’.

The inter-stellar adventures of the cherubic boy show the pilot the absurdity of a material world concerned with placing numerical and monetary values upon beauty and life. The man is reminded of the futility of the human race.  The little Prince and the pilot together learn about friendship, love and loss.

In the unassuming demeanour of a child, there is a powerful voice that tricks you into thinking it is but a whisper when in reality, it hollers at your conscience and summons your spirit.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince is one of the most treasured books I have ever read. There are some tales that are made of gold. Live with it. Live with the Little Prince on his asteroid.

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About the Author

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger comte de Saint Exupéry had a very long name.  He was a French aristocrat and aviator.  On December 30, 1935 at 02:45 a.m., after 19 hours and 44 minutes in the air, Saint-Exupéry, along with his mechanic-navigator André Prévot, crashed in the Sahara desert. They were attempting to break the speed record in a Paris-to-Saigon air race (called a raid) and win a prize of 150,000 francs.Their plane was a Caudron C-630 Simoun, and the crash site is thought to have been near the Wadi Natrun valley, close to the Nile Delta.

Both miraculously survived the crash, only to face rapid dehydration in the intense desert heat. Their maps were primitive and ambiguous, leaving them with no idea of their location. Lost among the sand dunes, their sole supplies were grapes, two oranges, a thermos of sweet coffee, chocolate, a handful of crackers, and a small ration of wine. The pair had only one day’s worth of liquid.

They both began to see mirages and experience auditory hallucinations, which were quickly followed by more vivid hallucinations. By the second and third day, they were so dehydrated that they stopped sweating altogether. Finally, on the fourth day, a Bedouin on a camel discovered them and administered a native rehydration treatment that saved their lives. The near brush with death would figure prominently in his 1939 memoir, Wind, Sand and Stars, winner of several awards. Saint-Exupéry’s classic novella The Little Prince, which begins with a pilot being marooned in the desert, is in part a reference to this experience.

 

Biography source: http://www.poemhunter.com/antoine-de-saint-exupery/biography/

 

Interesting 1979 clay animation film of the Little Prince with bonkers music.  Warning: If you haven’t read the book, don’t watch this film in case you cannot get the unremittingly screechy voice behind the little Prince out of your head. 🙂