Tag Archives: Marcel Proust

Dyer Maker

FA And Sons

FA review tag

At the center of the many characters and plot lines in David Gilbert’s new novel & Sons is an aging New York novelist named A.N. Dyer. Dyer’s debut work about young men in a Northeastern boarding school is an American classic, beloved by almost all who read it, most of whom do so as teenagers. Dyer has been deeply secluded in his New York apartment for years (in the opening scene at a funeral, some attendees have brought books to try and get signed). He has been in trouble for a dalliance with a much younger woman. And within 25 pages he has  referred to someone as a “sporty bastard.”

The parallels to J.D. Salinger here are obvious. There are other touches throughout the book. Characters crying at the natural history museum. “Fuck You” scrawled on a ceiling. A rain-soaked scene of emotional release at the Central Park carousel. One character, Jeanie Spokes, who works at Dyer’s literary agency and handled correspondence to the famous author, seems to be based on a woman who worked at Salinger’s literary agency and handles letters to the famous author. Dyer’s live-in nurse Gerd bears a passing resemblance to Salinger’s last wife Colleen, a nurse.

But & Sons is not a novelization of the imagined life of J.D. Salinger, and the famously reclusive author is only the most well-represented of several literary fathers here. Continue reading

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YEAR OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

FA Every Love Story

“…THOSE THINGS OF BEAUTY, HIS WONDERFUL WORKS, WHICH I HAD ONCE CONTRIVED TO FIT INTO THAT INFIRM AND SACRED FRAME, THAT DWELLING I HAD LOVINGLY CONSTRUCTED LIKE A TEMPLE EXPRESSLY DESIGNED TO HOLD THEM, THERE WAS NOW NO ROOM IN THIS THICK-BODIED LITTLE MAN STANDING IN FRONT OF ME…” – MARCEL PROUST, IN THE SHADOW OF YOUNG GIRLS IN FLOWER

FA Legacy of DFW

“STILL, WHEN THE ACHE IS OVERPOWERING, THERE’S THE WORK. NONE OF THIS PERSONAL STUFF, HOWEVER WORTHY OF RECOLLECTION, HOWEVER MOVING, IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE WRITING, THE LEGACY.”
- RICK MOODY, “TRIBUTE WRITTEN FOR WALLACE FAMILY MEMORIAL BOOK, 2008″

FA Conversations w DFW

“WHAT REALLY KNOCKS ME OUT IS A BOOK THAT, WHEN YOU’RE ALL DONE READING IT, YOU WISH THE AUTHOR THAT WROTE IT WAS A TERRIFIC FRIEND OF YOURS AND YOU COULD CALL HIM UP ON THE PHONE WHENEVER YOU FELT LIKE IT. THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN MUCH, THOUGH.” – J.D. SALINGER, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

FA Flesh and not

“AND YET IT OFTEN SEEMS THAT THE PERSON WE ENCOUNTER IN THE LITERARY BIOGRAPHY COULD NOT POSSIBLY HAVE WRITTEN THE WORKS WE ADMIRE. AND THE MORE INTIMATE AND THOROUGH THE BIO, THE STRONGER THIS FEELING USUALLY IS.” – DAVID FOSTER WALLACE, “BORGES ON THE COUCH”

FA IJ Circle

MORE TO COME HERE.

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Still Available: A Visit From the Goon Squad

Slate’s Audio Book Club has posted an interesting discussion on Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” In addition to pointing out that Egan was inspired by The Sopranos and Marcel Proust, the reviewers wonder if “Goon Squad” is somehow structured like a Facebook page.

If you want to find out for yourself, the book is still available at Trade Paperbacks. 

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A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Jackie is a punk. Judy is runt. They both got disillusioned by the Information Ay-age.
Status: Hey ho, let’s go.

JENNIFER EGAN’S “GOON SQUAD” TRIED TO SOUR ME with opening chapters about a young New York neurotic and an aging record producer whose primary function seemed to be to reminisce about, i.e. name drop, old punk bands. I’m glad I persevered, though, because “Goon Squad” is an exceptional book about aging, identity and remembering. In subtext, the story is about much of what Proust wrote about (Egan quotes him at the opening of the book). In actual text, “Goon Squad” is loosely about music, which is so effective as a vehicle because 1) it is so readily nostalgic for so many people and 2) because it is the form of media that has gone through the most revolutionary and resisted changes as a result of digital technology, a struggle repeated by many of the people in the novel. Egan weaves together the colliding chronologies of a constellation of characters (can you tell the rum is working?) in different chapters, each written in their own distinct style. This is, at times, as obnoxious as it sounds; but for the most part it’s riveting and expertly crafted. Egan even managed to overcome my strong reluctance to predicted technologies of the near future. In a few of the chapters that spin her narrative forward into years that haven’t happened yet, she draws some not so unreasonable logical conclusions from today’s cutting edge gadgets, and doesn’t push the envelope too far in most of her imaginings. A Nine-Inch-Nails song from some uncertain year ahead is called “Ga Ga” in order to appeal to toddlers and infants who can now download songs with the push of  button; this feels a little extreme. Yet, a chapter from the perspective of an adolescent girl in the 2020s is written in some variation of power point slides. Her mother, who we have met before, complains about this kind of writing, and that seems just about right.

Do you want to trade paperbacks?

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I Like Big BOOKS and I Cannot Lie

The Prisoner and the Fugitive by Marcel Proust
The volume inclined to make you wonder most about your own lost time
Status: Available

Finding Time Again by Marcel Proust
The best of the bunch
Status: Available

Marcel Proust

LIKE MOST PEOPLE WHO HAVE READ “IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME,” I initially bought the books because I thought it would look good to have them on my bookshelves. I mean this in both a literary and literal sense.

In 2002 Penguin Classics began publishing new translations of the six-book novel, and the Penguin Classics Deluxe paperback edition of “Swann’s Way” was, and is, one of the most gorgeous covers I have seen on any book. I bought it, along with the next three books, deceiving myself that my purpose was the reading of a classic work when, as Proust himself would likely have seen, the honest purpose was more or less the display of beautiful books. Fortunately, publishing company art departments have gotten so adept over the years that in many cases you can, and should, judge a book by its cover. So it was with Proust.

There is, however, one catch. Should you get hooked on the first four volumes, copyright law in America prevents you from getting the final two stateside until at least 2018. (According to slate.com, we have Sonny Bono to thank for that.) I was content to wait, and then one day a surprise package arrived from a good friend. Inside were the UK editions of the last two volumes. Even though they don’t have the beautiful covers of the American editions, I thought it was only right to make them available to you.

“The Prisoner and the Fugitive” and “Finding Time Again” are the final installments of the new translation of Proust’s novel. The books are sprawling, orotund, and contain the amount of tedium you might expect in hundreds of pages about Paris’ idle rich at the fin de siecle. Proust’s narrative is heavy on winding internal monologue and light on external events, meaning he will spend several pages exploring the various interpretive and expressive effects of a man deciding to wear a monocle, and then use a single, offhand sentence to inform you that the hostess of the party where the man with the monocle was observed died not long after the event. And yet, all these things contribute to the gifts of the novel, which is stunning in the beauty of its writing and its insight into human interactions, tragic and tender in its regard for the handful of characters who shape the narrator’s world, and just generally unlike anything you will ever read.

Also, the books are long.  I managed to tackle all six in just a shade under a decade.  But this, too, is part of the charm: a story about the passage of time benefits from a long reading period.

With all this in mind, it is not recommended that you start with “The Prisoner and the Fugitive.” One reason early translations may have been incorrectly titled as “Remembrance of Things Past,” is because the novel itself is about just that. Proust makes almost constant reference to previous events and characters as the story progresses, and in “The Prisoner and the Fugitive” we encounter the final stage of the narrator’s love affair with a woman named Albertine, which began in book two, paused in book three, resumed in book four and continues here with her as his “prisoner,” kept in near captivity at his Paris home.

Proust covers

Books one through four of the new translation, US edition.

The story is mostly focused on the narrator’s jealousy and Albertine’s suspected unfaithfulness, a subject covered similarly in the first volume, “Swann’s Way.” It is, to my mind, one of the most monotonous portions of the entire novel. The narrator alternates between tepid affection for Albertine while she is there, and searing misery when her absence allows the narrator’s imagination to envision her betrayals. There is a deeper subtext in which the narrator himself is the “prisoner” of his love, and then, following Albertine’s death, the “fugitive” as he tracks the internal healing process that allows him to escape his grief and forget her. Nonetheless, it all took me many, many months to trudge through. On the other hand, many reactions to this portion of the story, what is known as “The Albertine Cycle,” are that it contains the richest sections in all of “In Search of Lost Time.” It is true that no one does jealousy like Proust.

“Finding Time Again” is the last book of the novel, and is in close contention with “Swann’s Way,” the first book, for being the best of the six volumes. It may be the liberation from the endless cycle of the narrator’s disinterest and agony of the previous book, or the fact that external events like World War I flesh out a framework of actual plot; it may be that the final volume is the most referential of all the previous pieces, putting forward an all-star cast to reward your patience and attention, or it may also be that this is the single volume in which the narrator is compelled by a larger purpose than his own leisure, finding his calling in art and writing. It may also simply be that you are so close to the end that your interest is renewed, but I honestly don’t think that is it.

In “Finding Time Again” the narrator’s memories are the most vivid, as are his interactions. Rather than 40 pages on trying to go to sleep as a child, or a long train ride that sets the stage for a laborious etymology of French place names, Proust wanders the unlit streets of World War I Paris, encountering a changed city. He attends a party in which the end of an age is made apparent by the decay of the once robust people who have been part of the story until now. His understandings of Time and Habit and Death, first illuminated by the madeline in the first book, are fully revealed and provide the narrator with his vocation.  This final volume presents the organizing principle of the entire work, and imbues the previous five books with the glow of Proust’s own feeling.

In short, it’s so good that I instantly wanted to begin again at the start, and take the whole 3000 page trip again. And someday I will.

Do you want to trade paperbacks?

This will be the last post for a while as I step away from my blogging duties to get married. In keeping with today’s theme, I leave you with a reminder of the joys of French culture to encourage you to read Proust and tide you over in my absence.

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