Just my Opinion: Swann’s Way (Du côté de chez Swann)

Well, I’m through with the first book of Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time.)

There’s really only one way to put this: if you want to be a novelist, you should probably learn French just so that you can read it in its original splendor. It’s that good.

I’m equally as unqualified to critique this novel as I was to critique Ulysses, but I certainly enjoyed Swann’s Way more, simply because it’s less of a challenge to parse. Ulysses is a book that shows you how masterful a work it is by challenging you at every word; by contrast, Swann’s Way  shows you its magnificence by being incredibly accessible in its treatment of very subtle themes.

For a would-be novelist, Swann’s Way is both a technical masterpiece to be studied and a fantastic lesson in eliciting emotion and feelings through writing. There’re no tricks at play there, either clever or cheap. It’s all about using exactly the right words, in exactly the right way, to convey a tapestry of information and sentiments to the reader.

Is it entertaining? Not for me. I enjoyed reading it, because I want to get better at writing. But the major themes don’t really interest me, and the contemplative nature of the work doesn’t lend itself to excitement and suspense. I will say that it’s now on my list of books to refer to when describing societies: Proust’s depiction of French aristocracy in the late 19th, early 20th century is flat out fantastic, even though it’s not the real focus of the novel.

Will I keep reading À la recherche du temps perdu? Hell yes. I will probably eventually re-read it too, once I’ve seen the entirety of the novel and can better understand how each volume fits it. But for now, let’s get back to lighter fare.

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