Posted by: Jenny | Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Reading Proust

First, let me put my cards on the table. I was unsure what title to give this post, because there seems to be a certain amount of oneupmanship in, first, embarking on a reading of Proust’s 7-volume novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, and, second, completing it. I don’t want to appear to be bragging about it. Well, so far I have only finished reading the first book – so nothing to brag about yet.

I had decided that this was a book (books?) I should try to read sooner or later. If I’d set out to do this a few years ago, I would almost certainly have attempted to read it in the original French. Not so stupid (or vain) in my mature years, I decided my best chance of getting something positive from reading this work was to read it in translation.

First challenge: which medium? I find Kindle particularly useful for reading texts that are long, out of copyright (and thus cheap or free) or both. So the sensible thing to do was to look for a Kindle edition.

Second challenge: which translation? I had decided not to look up any information on this book before starting to read it. I didn’t want my first impressions to be influenced either by amateur reviews or professional literary criticism. Nor did I allow myself to look up the biography of the author. Consequently, I didn’t have to deliberate for long on which translation to read. I simply downloaded the only free version that I could find on the Amazon site. Which happens to be the original Moncrieff translation.

After reading the first part of Swann’s Way, I happened upon a book by Alain de Botton entitled How Proust can change your life. This turns out to be an excellent, highly readable and entertaining book, part biography and part literary review. I can’t say that reading Proust has changed my life; but reading De Botton’s little book has enhanced my appreciation of Proust.

A postscript: on completing Swann’s Way, I went in search of the remaining six volumes. Yes, I am hooked! Amazon did not come up with the goods at an affordable price (either in electronic or book form) but I found what appears to be a well-formatted edition of all the books here.

Having downloaded them all, I intend to leave Proust for a while, and go and read something else. I am also thinking of starting a reading blog (to go alongside my gardening blog). And most probably a drawing blog too.



  1. Have to say I’m impressed by your reading material.
    I think a reading blog is a good idea.
    I recently finished reading Simon Montefiore’s 800 page book “Jerusalem”. That was a challenge!
    All I can say is . . . Thank God that the Baha’i World Centre is in Haifa!

    • Sounds challenging, but I’m sure it was very interesting. I saw his TV series. What a difficult history that city has had.

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