How Proust Can Change Your Life
Alain de Botton
If you have heard of Marcel Proust raise your right hand. If you have read his In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu) raise your left hand. How many of you have two hands in the air? Just as I thought. Like many of you, I only have my right hand up.
But now, after reading Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life, I am ready to take steps so that I can proudly raise both hands should those questions be put to me in the future.
Sometimes we just need to know what things are about and this is where de Botton is a big help. His book gave me not only information about this eccentric Frenchman, but also a sampling of his writings so I have a heads-up on what I would be getting into in reading his seven-volume novel - which eventually came to contain more than a million and a quarter words.
The volumes were published in between 1913 and 1927. The final three volumes were published posthumously.
I learned that Proust was from a well-to-do family, was a bit of a momma's boy, had asthma, was known to wear a fur coat at the dinner table, was generous with his friends, and spent the final years of his life writing in bed. The one time he did go out, his last, he caught a chill which turned into pneumonia and he died. He was 51.
Employing generous quotes from Proust, de Botton takes a look at friendship, romance, food, books, suffering, grief, and art. Along the way the reader learns from Proust how to open one's eyes, take one's time, and notice what others miss in their hurry to get on with life.
After reading In Search of Lost Time, de Botton promises:
Our attention will be drawn to the shades of the sky, to the changeability of a face, to the hypocrisy of a friend, or to a submerged sadness about a situation which we had previously not even known we could feel sad about. The book will have sensitized us, stimulated our dormant antennae by evidence of its own developed sensitivity.
In the past, I have been put off reading Proust for I was intimidated by the novel's length and wandering, weaving sentences. And I wonder if I really want to read Proust's work or read more about Proust. Perhaps, from what I have read, they are the same.
But, in search of the former, I find that Amazon offers a Kindle edition (translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff) of all seven volumes for $2.99 or on Amazon.co.uk for £1.53. How handy it will be to have M. Marcel Proust in my back pocket.