Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is one of the rare books that come your way. After keeping in my TBR for nearly two years, I finally managed to become acquainted with it. This will not be a review in the strictest sense, for I don’t consider me competent enough to review such an in-depth work. And also what the reading of this book does to you, the effect it produces on you, you can only feel; no express word in all justice can properly capture them.
In Search of Lost Time is a collection of past memories, and Swann’s Way records the first part of this collection when the narrator was a child. This includes the narrator’s own childhood recollections and the tormenting romantic experience of a family friend, Monsieur Swann. However, these records come in fragments of events, a description of objects, a piece of music, a work of art, or an in-depth analysis of thought. There is no plot, and if you are a plot-driven reader, this work will bore you to death. But on the other hand, if you are fond of abstract reading, and love to connect with thoughts and lives of others, to feel empathy and sympathy, this may be for you.
The forte of the work lies in its writing. The beauty of the writing cannot be fully captured in words, but it can be somewhat safely described as poetic, picturesque, and musical. Proust’s narrative is a complete work of art. It is poetry that talks to your inner self arousing unknown feelings, it is a painting that thrills you and satisfies your senses, it is music that resonates with you. The reading transports you into space and time – perhaps not to the very thing the narrator describes, but to a similar experience from your own life. You hear the “Vintueil’s Sonata”, only that it is not exactly what you hear but a similar sonata that is stored in your memory. You see a picture – the colour and form of it, only it corresponds to something you’ve seen and collected in your memory. This was my reading experience – being transported into the narration and its surroundings and out of it to a parallel corresponding memory from my past. I have never experienced anything like that ever in my reading life.
Swann’s Way tests the power of memory, and questions the identity of self, thoughts, and things against space and time. It is a very thought-provoking work. I truly have a mind to read the rest of the volumes, to re-experience those unique and exquisite feelings that were evoked by this reading. In an exclusive corner, undisturbed, isolating myself completely, I would love to plunge headlong to the words of Proust and enchant myself in the memories of his past and my past.