Reading Proust – volume 5 update

It wasn’t what I was expecting but volume 5 of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time ends on a cliff-hanger. It is incredible how such separeate threads from five previous volumes are starting to brought together: a narrative arc that I could never see converging has in fact been much closer to convergence than I expected.

I’ve been reading In Search of Lost Time – Proust’s epic explorationg of memory, art, adolescence and decisre – on and off since 2007. It is one of those books that lots of people have heard of, some know two things about it (the long sentances and the flood of memories provoked by dipping a madeliene cake in his tea) but I’ve hardly found anyone who has actually read it. So in 2007 I decided to give it a go (in English!).

I read volume one on the train to Iran that summer, but it took me several attempts over a number of years to get through volume 2. By 2017 I felt I was on a role and have bee averaging a volume a year since then.

Reading Proust is not like any other author I have experienced. You have to be in the right mood, but when you are it is like climbing onto a large comfortable sofa and letting the cushions envelope you. It is like being induced into a state of mind rather than following a plot. The descriptions and reflections are like training to be more observant of the world and more aware of feelings and memories.

And yet the plot which emerges over so many hundreds of pages is gripping. I feel like I have been reading about these characters for so long that I have been growing up with them.

As I near the end of the cycle of books I’m thinking about what I have learnt from the experience and it is hard, probably because the book is not a ‘what’ thing but a ‘how’ thing – how has it made me feel rather than what I have I learnt. As reflective practice becomes an increasingly important part of my work and life more broadly, I realise the observant and reflective qualities in Proust have become a good companion.

The joy that I get from reading this book is tempered a little by not having many people to talk to about it. So as I plunge into the final volume I will reflect more on how I have experienced the book in the aim of inspiring more people to read it, so I can talk to them about it.

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