I recently mail off my copy of Remembrance of Things Past, Volume I: Swann's Way, by Marcel Proust.
Unfinished. About 400 pages worth of unfinished.
I'd heard about Proust from a number of sources, spoken with a reverence reserved for the likes of James Joyce and Dostoevsky.
I didn't finish Ulysses either though I loved Crime and Punishment.
So when I brought home Swann's Way it was with a token solemnity that I climbed into bed to read it, cup of tea by my side. I hunkered down hoping to love this book, with those many volumes and thousands of pages to look forward to.
I wasn't all that certain at first. I'm still not. After many nights and many dutiful attempts to read a multitude of paragraphs, filled with endless compound and run on sentences covering a period of time that could have lasted no more than five minutes, five seconds, perhaps, devoted to a glimpse into the stream of consciousness of one man as he lie awake in bed, moments after snuffing out his candle, remembereing his youth, a childhood of inconsolable angst, a childhood of yearnings and dread combined into a dull, relentless ache of loneliness, when he would lie awake then, in just such a bed, in just such a way as this, a boy, waiting for his dear, sweet mother to climb the steps and come to his room and deliver a good night kiss, a kiss he anticipated with unbearable fervor, after which he felt an intensity of disappointment that it was over and that he would not see his mother again for many hours yet to come, knowing that his father would ridicule him for his clinging emotionality, I decided that reading pleasure was not to be had at the prolific hand of Proust.
In short, reading left me feeling really annoyed. Was it Proust's writing style? Or was it a function of the translation? Whichever, it writing bounced and skipped like a beaded bracelet that breaks open and scatters across concrete. Where is it all going? Will it ever come together again, into one coherent idea? Too much repetitive detail. Too little notice before a topic change. My mind was ringing with, "Alright, already!" Throughout the one hundred or so pages I read, I wasn't sure if, during the entire narrative, he was still in bed.
For several nights I gave it another try. I thought maybe I'd finally get into his rhythm, start to follow his train of long, obsessive thought. Determined to appreciate it.
Instead I started to wonder if the One Hundred Greatest Novels of All Time list was penned by none other than Ellsworth Toohey, playing a trick on the masses, trying to make us feel small and guilty for failing to comprehend the magnitude of Proust's style.
But in the end, I let it go. Life is too short to feel annoyed. Too many good books out there waiting.
I'm curious though. Any readers think I made a mistake, loved the book, think I should have persevered?