Submitted by NotBorris t3_126n3j7 in books

I first heard of this series in 1Q84 by Murakami and in that book it is said that the only time people have to read all of those books is when they enter prison. And Proust was also mentioned several times in The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard.

I'm 50 pages into the first volume and I really enjoy the narrations so far. Just a guy reminiscing about the sweet moments of his childhood. The comforting dreams he can't remember, the one moment his mom read the first real novel to him as they both cried, and drinking tea on an incredible Sunday morning. So far I enjoy the melancholic yet wholesome times.

If anyone else has read the series I'd love to know your thoughts on it.



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Optimal-Tune-2589 t1_je9y3pj wrote

It’s been a long time since I’ve read it, so I don’t have any particularly insightful thoughts off the top of my head, but one tip: you will spend A LOT of time reading (minor spoiler) scenes that involve people talking at house parties or salons. I’m not always the type to listen to music while reading, but found that playing the type of music they were probably listening to at these gatherings — particularly Saint-Saens, whose work was referenced by a pseudonym repeatedly in Proust — added to the mood and helped me stay focused.


BitterStatus9 t1_jecfl7j wrote

It took me about 20 years to finish Proust, and it did change my life. For the better. Some thoughts:

- Despite what others here have said, it's not "a series." It's one book, with many volumes.

- He didn't write it because he was bed ridden and "had a lot of free time on his hands."

- Alain de Botton's book (to paraphrase some comments here about Proust) "goes downhill" after the title page. It's shallow and condescending, imho, and a much better read is the recent book by Christopher Prendergast called (I think) Living and Dying with Marcel Proust. But it has "spoilers."

- About spoilers. I think the two main things that make Proust most worthy and possible to finish (other than the writing itself, which can be tough to navigate at times) are:

  1. It's not about the plot. "What happens" almost doesn't really matter at all, because it's a novel of ideas and concepts, and things "happen" to serve a single purpose: to convey the author's observations about these ideas. Not to tell a conventional story with a 3-act structure or something normal.

  2. Foremost among these ideas of Proust is that there are two kinds of memories: voluntary memories, where we try to recall something, intentionally; and involuntary memories, where something from the past comes flooding back to you unexpectedly, triggered by some stimulus (that's the madeleine thing in Swann's Way).

- There is a comment in this thread about how the last volumes must have been rushed because he was ill, so they don't hold together as well. He actually wrote most of the last volumes FIRST, and then went back and wrote Swann's Way in full and published it, before continuing, jumping around to fill in the gaps in the other volumes (but the whole thing was not quite fully "done" when he died, and much of it was put together by his editors from his notebooks and typescripts).

- If you want some amazing descriptions of how he lived and worked, read M. Proust by Celeste Albaret, his longtime house maid.

Finally, someone said below that volumes 5 and 6 were a "slog" because of "too much obsessing about Albertine." This is really interesting, because on one level, the entire 3,000 page, 2,000 character, seven volume book is a rumination on the causes and results of exactly that obsessing. That's kind of the whole point, I think.

Anyway, take your time, and remember one last thing: Every single thing in the book, every detail, every painfully extensive description of the color of the leaves on a hawthorn tree at a certain time of day, is there for a reason. There is not one wasted word. Not one. It's one of the great artistic accomplishments of all time.


geneing t1_jefrddt wrote

Interesting. I actually came to the exact opposite impression after finishing all 7 volumes. I felt it was a poorly written book with mostly cartoonishly shallow characters, but with occasional sparks of brilliance and a few interesting and novel ideas and observations. However, on balance it was a disappointment.

Even reading Harold Bloom's essays didn't convince me that it's a great work. He was also mostly focusing on the few great ideas in the book, while glossing over the ridiculous plot twists and simply bad writing and editing.


mountuhuru t1_je9zmnr wrote

There is a very pleasant music album of Proustiana called “Le Sonate de Vinteuil” by Maria and Nathalia Milstein. You would also find it helpful to look at “Paintings in Proust” by Eric Karpeles.

You may also enjoy Alain de Botton’s book “How Proust Can Change Your Life.”


Jsbdjdms t1_je9xmle wrote

With what little I have read, it seems to be a wonderful book, it is interesting to see what motivates a man to take such a huge undertaking as writing this book. I planned to complete it , but never did, I still plan to complete it.


Dylaus t1_jeap7b1 wrote

From what I've heard, he was chronically bed ridden later in life and had a lot of free time to kill


jon_snurrrr t1_je9ye7q wrote

As I was growing more confident in my reading ability, I attempted to read Proust but I realized I have to build up my patience and comprehension more to appreciate it to the max. I’m happy that you seemed to find what I was looking for. In a few years, another attempt will have to happen.


Markj565 t1_jeabm3r wrote

Try the audio book. I’m finding my patience and comprehension improved with that.


The_Red_Curtain t1_jea6lrp wrote

I read it last year over 3-4 months, I absolutely loved it. It has some of the most distinct and fully formed characters ever shown in fiction. It's also one of the funniest books I've ever read.


Joona_Linna t1_jeazlig wrote

I'd say hang on if you can. It's a slow starter, but around halfway (of the first book) it becomes incredible.

Also, there is no need to read it all in one go. Don't feel guilty for dropping it, reading something else and picking it up again. Years later maybe. That's fine.

I found that I enjoyed the first books more than the last when I was younger. I am nearing 60 now, have read them again, and the last book hit me so hard I could not breathe or think straight.


massive-dose t1_jebtvyc wrote

agree. I read the series in english translation, in my thirties.

seems to me I wouldn't have been able to make sense of it when I was any younger.

swann's way (the first volume) and the past recaptured (the last volume) are the best, and were written first, as I understand it. the middle volumes can be thought of as digressions, elaborations on a theme, or set of themes, and although they have merits of their own, they can drag on in my opinion. some of the references are so specific, they make you nostalgic for a time and place that you yourself never knew.
it's remarkable.

like they say, some experiences can never be known, they can only be referred to, and perhaps recognized.

but don't fight it. skip them if they bore you. burn them if they infuriate you. that's what he did with some earlier versions, and that's he would tell you to do, too.

proust's inner voice is one of those things, one either relates to and recognizes it as if it were your own, or perhaps not. if so, then it becomes so engaging it is irresistible.

but proust's immense powers of observation are undeniable, have been vastly influential and remain, I think, unique.

these are some of the few books that whatever else happens, when you finish, you are not the same person you were when you started them.


prudence2001 t1_jea2pwv wrote

Pace yourself. It took me 30 years to finally finish, but I loved most of it. Though some of volumes 5 and 6 were a bit of a slog. Too much obsessing over Albertine.


selfcarebouquet t1_jebqc10 wrote

I read it over a period of 4 months before my first trip to Paris 30 years ago. I had a temp job where I was the onsite temp agency rep/coordinator at a hospital so I literally had no work unless a dept called requesting a temp. Memory is sketchy but I do recall thinking that the quality of the writing and the storytelling declined quite a bit in the last couple of volumes. I suppose I could Google it but IIRC, some of the later volumes weren’t completely finished before Proust died.


Warm-Enthusiasm-9534 t1_jeaask4 wrote

The second half of the first volume ("Swann in Love") is a masterpiece. I got bogged down after that and got stuck in the middle of the third volume.


shhimundercover t1_jee0q5f wrote

Same feelings, the first volume is great in its own right; the second I finished out of principle. I felt it lacking the introspection and reminiscence of the first book, which OP and I seem to agree were some of the stronger elements. That was probably part of the point in telling about teenage years, but still I just couldn't turn any more pages


steadydark t1_jeac3fg wrote

Amazing book. I've read 50 pages but I am careful about my eyes, so a slow pace.


[deleted] t1_jeak3lb wrote

I heard of it from a Lincoln Child book Utopia there was a hit man in the book who was obsessed with the novels. I got the first one for Christmas but it’s been sitting unread in my room for years.


Oscarmaiajonah t1_jefd57v wrote

I read it after someone bought me "How Proust can Change Your Life" as a gift (wouldnt recommend that one by the way lol)

I absolutely love it, I bought a 6 volume translation and was heartbroken when I reached the end of the final volume. My favourite volumes I have read so often they fell apart and had to be replaced. Its a beautiful journey through the French society of Prousts time, entered into via the memories both voluntary and involuntary of a man who wrote some wondrous prose.


alfariid t1_jea0vdq wrote

Was forced to read it in second year French studies at uni. and didn't understand anything of why it was such a big deal. Having matured a bit since then, I still hate the experience, but I can understand that the book is accepted as one of the great French literary works and worth reading for some. I dunno, I think my problem with it is how we were forced to analyse it a certain way (the use of senses, as opposed to as a satire in other traditions). Anyways, important thing is that you enjoy it.


Ihrenglass t1_jea2pmi wrote

I am currently reading it and find the prose really good with the main focus being to remember his old feelings and thoughts from back then. There is really no overarching plot or structure which I feel can make it a bit hard to keep going as there is no goal outside of the interesting ways that he describes feelings and patterns of behaviour/thought.

I found Swann's relationship to Odette really interesting in how much of his love comes from him and doesn't really have that much to do with her and her actions.


bippser t1_jealt8a wrote

Before starting, I was intimidated by the length, the long sentences, and the general difficulty. However, having come into the experience (I’m almost finished with vol 1)ready for the challenge, I found that this book heavily rewards a careful reader. Look up any word that is new to you, any painting the book refers to, almost anything at all that is not readily understood. Reread the sentences that don’t make sense if you have to. At least for me, the book has proven to you to be an extremely vivid experience, and captivating experience. That being said if I had to read this book for a class 5+ years ago on a time crunch I may not have enjoyed it very much.

I’m just hoping the rest of the volumes are this good!


grynch43 t1_jeats1u wrote

I plan to read it eventually but it’s such a huge endeavor that I’m afraid I’ll start it but never finish it.


VanhaVihtahousu t1_jeatxpp wrote

I'm currently reading 7/10 of the series (Finnish translation). I adore it. The style of Proust works on me like a spell.


GumGuts t1_jebfb2k wrote

I read that "reading Proust requires extraordinary extra-cognitive perception," and that about sums it up.

He's weaving another dimension into his writing. I probably only really caught about 5% of what he was talking about, but that 5% stands as one of the greatest experiences I've ever had.

If you catch on, you'll start falling in love with his prose. This isn't something to barrel through and read for the sake of reading. I found the best I could do was something like skim it, but that was enough. It's like reading a poem, where it's not literary devices that are the object, but poetic essence.


priceQQ t1_jedduiy wrote

I am 4 books in—they get better and better as you go. The 4th ends in a very dramatic way. The hardest part is what you just read. It starts very slowly but after the first 50-100 pp, it takes off.

I took a break for about a year to read other stuff, but I’ll return to the last three soon.


Dasagriva-42 t1_jedw11f wrote

"The best book ever" That is my thought. I'm re-reading it, and enjoying it more and more.

You will find references to it everywhere else in literature, either to events in the book, or characters or themes. Keep looking for them.

For me, it is my answer to "which 3 books would you take to a desert island?" In search of lost time and another 2 (well, no, the 2nd would be the complete works of Borges, but the 3rd I don't care so much)


rawterror t1_jeawwzq wrote

Prison or a long illness, like consumption.


StrawberryFields_ t1_jec91jw wrote

The series goes downhill around the third book. Swann's Way is the best.