For many, Marcel Proust’s masterpiece of memories, In Search of Lost Time, is the greatest work of 20th century literature, ranking with the greatest of 19th century writers such as Tolstoy and Austen.
True, Proust’s exquisite memories and interior monologues are not to everyone’s taste, but they carry you into a world of his own, amid the salons of fin de siècle Paris and the family’s country retreat at Combray.
The main obstacle for most of us is the sheer length of the project, originally some seven volumes. I, for one, have only read the first volume, Swann’s Way.
Recently, a friend told me that the first volume has now been produced as a graphic novel. Normally, that wouldn’t interest me–but, then, he explained that the translator is Arthur Goldhammer (who is always superb) and that the drawings by French illustrator Stéphane Heuet evoke the streets of Paris and Combray and the interiors and people Proust remembers.
I was intrigued–and confident in my friend’s judgment–bought it and plunged ahead.
Goldhammer likens the graphic novel to “a piano reduction of an orchestral score.” That’s too modest for such an achievement.
I have just finished the book and hated to see it end. That’s always the best evidence the book was engaging.
If you’ve always wanted to try reading Proust but hesitated because of the length and complexity, you might consider the graphic version of Swann’s Way (link to Amazon here).
The NPR review by Glen Weldon captures my view:
To be clear: this is a dense read. Yes, it’s a comic, but given that so much of it has to do with petty judgments and perceived slights among various levels of Parisian society, pages and pages are devoted to static conversations in well-appointed drawing rooms. But those drawing rooms are richly realized, which is another way the graphic novel brings an immediacy to the infrastructure of Proust’s story, which he set in real neighborhoods boasting recognizable landmarks, all reproduced here in exacting detail.
Is it any real substitute for reading Proust’s prose, in French or in English? Of course not, and I don’t see anyone seriously suggesting it is.
But it makes for an intriguing introduction to the novels, if you’ve never made the leap — a kind of literary gateway drug — and a tantalizing refresher course, if you have. –Glen Weldon for NPR