Slowly, slowly. That’s how things go when you’re two books deep in Proust. Soporific, even – though given that a lot of the action in the second volume occurs beachside, where sex and surf combine.
Well, it’s not all thoughts of boning and brine.
There’s a fair bit of salon story, and a hefty amount of discourse on art and friendship. There is a hefty amount of playtime and childhood love – and loss of same – which fits in with the perennially bummed nature of the narrator. And throughout, there’s a bittersweet sense of time passing, of the way life can change on something as basic as a choice of route or one’s views on painting.
Maddeningly, there’s a a large chunk of the book dedicated to the vicissitudes of Swann and his terrible love life, something which pretty much passed me by, though I’m sure there is A Point, which will undoubtedly become clear in another 1300 pages. I mean I’m getting the signal that All Love Is Pretty Terrible, so I’m looking forward to Marcel’s increasing cack-handedness to really come to the fore in future volumes.
On the plus side, our narrator does finally manage to get a beachside holiday – his frame now up to such a jaunt, apparently – and proceeds to spend it fantasising about certain girls, obtainable or not. Friendships are struck up – undoubtedly coded to better fit the mores of the time – and passion (incredibly, from a narrator who appears to have all the ardour of a smoked trout) seems the scent du jour.
While occasionally soupy, the prose is often startlingly clear. There is a fuckton of it, however, and if you’re into brevity, this is certainly not the one for you. And honestly, to concentrate on anything other than the way the words flow is to almost miss the point. As I mentioned when I discussed the first volume, there’s so much going on here that it’s impossible to keep all strands neatly organised. Instead, you must plunge in and savour the flow.
(Here’s why I dig the Kilmartin edit of the Moncrieff translation: it aims for beauty rather than word-for-word translation. There’s a foppish wonder to this text and I can’t imagine perceiving it any other way.)
The four stars here are for the boldness of Proust’s goal. He’s completely self-involved, and is ALL IN on the project of presenting himself to the world and all its disappointments.
Did I enjoy this as much as the first volume? Not really, no. But I’m in now, so ONWARDS.