French Literature, International Lierature, memoir, Modernism, Remembrance of Things Past, Review: Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, Swann's Way by Marcel Proust, The Guardian 100 Greatist Novel's of All Time: The List
Since its original publication in 1913, Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, has been regarded as one of the best novels ever written. Although it is a challenging text, which requires concentration and reflection not typical of most novels, the end result, a transformational journey of the heart and mind, is worth the time and effort. The complexity and brilliance of Proust’s masterpiece slowly unfolds before the reader in three parts as he discusses his thoughts on his past: life, family, memories, and time. Through his one-of-a-kind narrative and descriptive style, Proust captivates and takes the reader to another time and place, capturing concepts and emotions most people cannot connect or verbalize.
In Part One: Combray, the narrator fondly recalls the setting of his family’s house in the country in ways that inform and involve the reader, taking him or her back in time with the skillful expression of difficult thoughts and emotions. The author describes sensations he experiences as a child, such as sight and taste, that come together in the mind of the reader to shape his memories into stories. From the images of pink hawthorns he spots on walks with his family to the taste he enjoys when sipping a cup of tea, he describes memories, which are common occurrences in the lives of humans, yet his descriptions share a unique beauty and meaning most people don’t know or can’t articulate. He writes of the images evoked from the taste of his tea, “And as in that game enjoyed by the Japanese in which they fill a porcelain bowl with water and steep in it little pieces of paper until then indistinct which, the moment they are immersed, stretch and twist, assume colors and distinctive shapes, become flowers, houses, human figures, firm and recognizable, so now all the flowers in our garden and M. Swann’s park, and the water lilies of Vivionne, and the good people of our village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings, all of this which is acquiring form and solidity, emerged, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.” (48) Proust has a style of writing about emotions, memories, and experiences in ways the reader has only ever experienced as the seedlings of thoughts. Through his words and ideas, the reader experiences a sense of awakening and appreciation for not only Swann’s memories, but also his or her own.
As the novel continues on to Part Two: Swann in Love and Part Three: Place-Names: The Name, the reader remains challenged and astounded by Proust’s storytelling and perspective, learning more about the themes of past, family, memory, and time as they intertwine and come full circle. Proust’s use of involuntary memory to relate his story is sometimes daunting, hard to follow, and the reader wonders how it connects with the rest of the novel. But, every small detail from the author’s past which seems unnecessary to the reader, is eventually explained and becomes a cohesive part of the whole text: the people who have left the strongest imprints on his heart, objects that have made impressions, places that bring ideas and images to the surface are all meticulously included. Proust guides the reader on a journey, which illuminates the parts of life, which are often forgotten or taken for granted, and truly teaches the process of reflection and appreciation. The reader slowly sees the narrator’s experiences complete a story in which his mind and emotions are one. The story tells the reader how people ultimately think, feel, remember, and create meaning in life.
Proust thinks and communicates on a higher level than most people. His work is complex, penetrating, and insightful. Those who read will be rewarded with a rare experience and enjoyment that only this caliber of writer can provide. The reading requires diligence and patience but is worth the effort. While the author, his writing, and ideas are genius, even an average person knows and appreciates this text is rare, and it’s contents are a work of art, to be valued and shared.
Star Rating: 5 out of 5