This review’s going to be shorter than my other Proust ones, which is amusing because, even with everything else going on this year, this book was an enormous fucking slog. I mean you’d think there was more to write about it, but ensuring I maintained the will to live seems to have taken precedence.
The fifth volume in Modern Library edition I’m reading, contains two entries, ostensibly about the same relationship. Both of these were published after the author’s death, which means that they lack his copious, monomaniacal corrections. Though to be fair, ol’ Marcel was never one for brevity or editorial rigour, so we can just assume that were he able to do the job from the sepulchre, it’d be largely the same except with more detail about, I dunno, cornices or pastries.
As it is, the book(s) cover the narrator’s atrocious relationship with Albertine, who he likes when she’s not around other people. When he’s not around her, he spends most of his time whipping himself into a lather about perceived lesbian dalliances she must be having, and making plans to dump her arse… plans which are invariably rolled back because the narrator possesses all the rigidity of a box jellyfish.
The dissolution of the relationship provides further grist for his Mill of Agonising, which, while a great metal album title, makes for pretty uninspiring reading. This is because the Narrator, instead of going out on the ran-tan and finding a new person to gush over, instead spends time wafting about wondering if he’d made the right choice, and then trying to inveigle his hated love back into the fold.
I mean, it’s like Marriage Story except there’s no meme-able wall punching.
(Well, and I suppose that film doesn’t really push the “I guess maybe everyone in this city is gay? Checks out!” barrow, so there’s a point of difference.)
The relentless harping on perceived infidelity that soaks the text is a phenomenal drag. That kind of jealousy-based-on-imagination is tiresome in real life but here it is absolutely excruciating. I can give Marcel a pass because, well, he was dead at the time this came out, but hoo boy was my resolve tested.
No, wait. He doesn’t just pick at emotional scabs. He also publishes a newspaper article. Who says character growth is dead?
If I could reach into the book and grab the narrator by his undoubtedly fine-smelling lapels and smack the bejesus out of him then I would, because this was the volume which came closest to breaking me. I understand that part of the point of the work is that its focal point is an utter shitheel, but hell – talk about overegging the pudding. The twin entries here relentlessly restate the same proposition – the Narrator’s a dick – until it’s unbearable.
Man, I hope this thing finishes strongly. One volume to go. Give me strength.