The epic Remembrance of Things Past ends with Marcel Proust outlining what he intended to do as a writer and sharing the moment when he has the blinding flash moment that inspires him to start writing the book.
Marcel has suffered bouts of absence because of illness and as a result only coincides with some of the other characters on an occasional basis. This volume takes place against the backdrop of the First World War with different attitudes of characters to the conflict. Bloch and Morel try to run away from the fighting but Saint-Loup dives into it and is killed. Then after another break Marcel visits a party at the Guermantes and realises how old everyone has become, including himself. The crucial thing is that on the way to the party three things happen which evoke memories of his childhood and then he spends time waiting for the music to finish in the library and realises that he can write a book, it is I him, and the challenge is to do it before time runs out.
Is it well written?
It is up to the same standards as all the other volumes with a perceptible increase in the pace because time is running out. Some characters die, wither in war or of illness, and there is a palpable sense that Marcel’s generation are running into the sand and if he is going to do something in the world of literature he has to do it now. Describing the effect that a sound, a smell or a person has to evoke memories of childhood is not an easy thing to do but Proust manages to convey those moments of understanding easily.
Should it be read?
I think what saves it from becoming another navel gazing social scene report is the moment when he realises and comments on the art of writing based on memory. Up until that point the usual themes of vice, deception and disappointment are in evidence with Charlus and Saint-Loup. Near the end of the volume the passages where he writes about writing speak across the decades and are a challenge and a guide for budding authors today.
Version read – Chatto & Windus hardback 1982