The novel as a flotation tank. Except that it feels more like that you are suspended in a take away Chicken Korma than floating in water, and far from sensory deprivation, it is a sensory inundation that the experience winds up being all about.
Your host: Marcel, a fictitious first-person narrator.
The length of your session?
Over three thousand pages, distributed over seven dense volumes, five resonant locales, half a dozen splendidly appointed drawing rooms, and between seven and 10 love affairs (depending on if you count Marcel`s infatuation with his mother and grandmother as one or two, and his passionate discovery of his literary calling on page two thousand, nine hundred and something, at all).All this is very French – the idea of touch, smell, sound unlocking the past and the reviving of old memories. The tragedy of it all is that it takes seven volumes to do this, and nobody yet has found a satisfactory way of translating the first sentence of Volume I into English.
Anyway back to the book.
Begin, and if you must, end with Swanns Way, the first volume in the heptology; for conversational purposes at least, you will have read Proust!
You won`t meet many people who have made it through the whole thing; besides, the narrative eventually comes full circle, and virtually all the important characters and themes are presented here. Shifting back and forth in time and space in the form of” Tardis-like Madelaines”; the narrator first recalls his childhood in the relatively innocent town of Combray, then goes on to tell of the doomed obsession of Robert Swann, an elegant “Leslie Phillips-like” dilettante, with an unworthy tart named Odette de Crecy. (Later all the characters change roles and masks so often until they are all become unidentifiable and you wish you had never started reading the damned thing. Spoiler Alert: Everyone that you will meet on the way will either die or turn out about to be gay).
Swanns Way will give you a perfectly adequate take on Proust`s prose style; in fact, by the time you come back blinking into the sunlight, you will feel positively intimate with the interminable, serpentine sentences; the constant, seemingly unstoppable metaphors, analyses and digressions. Not forgetting the schizophrenic shifts from gloomy reverie to the worst form of camp bitchiness – all in a way that may make you reach for the Absinthe.
Both chic and snobbish, Proust somehow succeeds in altering consciousness and makes the most unlikely if not impossible connections. In which he demonstrates the relationship , real or illusory, between transcendence and trendiness, art and love, the self and other, people and birds. And of course…… biscuits.