So you want to read Proust? Really?

October 9, 2013 | By Frédérique Molay
Frédérique Molay © Jean LucPetit

Frédérique Molay’s The 7th Woman took France by storm in 2011 after it won the country’s most prestigious crime fiction award Le Prix du Quai des Orfèvres. That is when Frédérique left her position in politics and administration to dedicate her life to writing and raising her three children. She has been called “the French Michael Connelly.” The 7th Woman was recently published in English as an e-book original by Le French Book; it is the first in the Nico Sirsky, Chief of Police series. Two more are currently being translated.


First of all, know that In Search of Lost Time corresponds to a lot of lost time. If you imagine that you actually enjoy the reading, then you’ll have to make it through all seven thick volumes of the writer’s story. Your whole summer vacation gone, just like that. And if you read slowly, it could keep you busy until Christmas.

But, here we are talking about major writers, which gives me another argument against reading Proust. André Gide didn’t like the manuscript, calling it “incomprehensible.” He sent it back to the author. I personally tend to believe Gide unquestionably: wasn’t he the one to recognize Georges Simenon as a man of letters? Gide was fascinated by the mystery writer’s creativity and shared a nearly weekly correspondence with him. So, who couldn’t respect Gide’s opinion, Proust or no Proust? But then, later, Gide declared that rejecting Proust “would remain the most serious error made by the Nouvelle Revue Française.” Did he turn around because he was afraid of public opinion, or was he sincere? We’ll need to call in the detectives to find out.

Have you read 50 Shades of Gray?  If you are one of those who hated it—like so many of the millions of readers who tore through the pages of that erotic novel (I would love to be so hated)—then abstain from reading Proust. His work is about nothing but sex: who is sleeping with whom and who loves whom, with little notice of gender. Proust had a very open mind; our times could perhaps learn from that earlier age.

As an author of crime fiction, my final argument is not the least of them: there is absolutely no suspense in Proust’s work. Okay, I said it. The narrator gets lost in wild imaginings of interest only to him, and readers could wonder just what they are doing there. Take the last volume—Time Regained. It makes me think of a sentence by T.S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” Admit it, that doesn’t really get us anywhere does it?

Of course, if none of these arguments have convinced you, then dive into the interminable reading of Proust—there may be some irony in it. Let yourself be guided through this French literary monument, with Paul Morand’s words in mind: “That staggering, vertiginously long sentence, with parentheses that hold it up like air in balloons, will lead you into a network of incidences so intertwined you could be numbed by its melody, if some thought of extraordinary depth were not to call out to you…”

So taste Proust’s madeleines, which have entered everyday language as much as his questionnaire. I personally love madeleines. They make me think of my beloved grandmother. Odd, isn’t it?


Air France is a proud sponsor of 2013: A Year with Proust, a year long festival organized by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.


 

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