Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: The Guermantes Way

Would I have made it through The Guermantes Way without the plot synopsis and page reference numbers in the appendix?

More importantly, would the third book of Proust's In Search of Lost Time have scuttled my entire project to read his masterpiece?

The Guermantes Way was a bit like reading Leviticus (which I did in a different phase of self-abuse). It was dull, obsessively detailed, and light on characters. To be sure, Proust fills his book with important people, but they are people who were (I think) more important to the world outside the book or (I can hope) will be more important in later chapters.

The most valuable characters in this volume seem to be the grandmother, who does little but die and whose death doesn't impact the Narrator in quite the way I'd have hoped, and Albertine, who returns but is much less interesting than I found her in Within a Budding Grove.

Maybe my disappointment comes from growing to dislike the Narrator's social climbing and the incumbent attention to heritage. At the conclusion of The Guermantes Way, I certainly feel ready to write a screed against the bourgeois excesses of early 20th century France. These people are society, but they seem to do nothing, contribute nothing, and know nothing more than their own petty social caste.

And maybe my disappointment comes from the Narrator's growing dominance of the story arc. My favorite chapter to date has been "Swann in Love" from Swann's Way, and closely following it, the passages from the end of Within a Budding Grove featuring Albertine, Andree and Gisele. The Narrator needs to share the stage.

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