My writing group started an on-line discussion about our favourite descriptive writing. I chipped in with a few quotes from Hilary Mantel, but then I thought about Proust. I have read the C.K Scott Moncrieff/Terence Kilmartin English translation twice. Despite years of ‘French’ at school I really cant read it fluently.
I first got interested in Proust by being a Monty Python fan and listening to their ‘Seaside summarise Proust competition’ sketch. Maybe not the usual route.
Proust is the master of description and also, (I now remember) the master of the incredibly long sentence.
I can’t find all the best bits in a few minutes, but I will give a quote which I hope will illustrate that he is an approachable as well as a brilliant and funny writer.
“But my father, inquisitive, irritated and cruel, repeated: “Have you friends, then, in the neighbourhood, since you know Balbec so well?”
In a final and desperate effort, Legrandin’s smiling gaze struggled to the extreme limits of tenderness, vagueness, candour and abstraction; but, feeling no doubt that there was nothing left for it now but to answer, he said to us: “I have friends wherever there are clusters of trees, stricken but not defeated, which have come together with touching perseverance to offer a common supplication to an inclement sky which has no mercy upon them.”
“That is not quite what I meant, interrupted my father, as obstinate as the trees and as merciless as the sky. I asked you in case anything should happen to my mother-in-law…..”
As many people know ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ begins with nearly fifty pages centred on the author falling asleep when a child. This might put some off! What modern novel beginning in this way would ever get published?
But, to anyone reading this, I give you a promise. If you read this book it will change you. You will see the world differently, and I think you will likely enjoy it and consider the time well spent.