Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

Swann's WayI must confess that I don’t feel I can review Swann’s Way wholeheartedly as I certainly did not read it with much enthusiasm so I may not be giving it its due here.  With the lengthy opening consisting of a boy’s wish to have his mother kiss him goodnight and stay at his bedside, which continued for many pages ad infinitum, I was initially turned off.  While recovering from this and focusing on Proust’s beautiful writing, I began to hope and did so for a bit, however, I again lost interest, much to my dismay and wonder that this is a book to be lingered over for a length of time without any thoughts towards its conclusion.

The narrator, Marcel, fondly recalls his younger years at home and his difficulties in sleeping.  Another (and much more interesting story) involves the love affair between Swann and Odette.  I’m tempted to say put this kid to bed and let Swann tell his own story.

Charles Swann, a family friend, is a stockbroker who falls for a woman he sees as someone other than she truly is.  His obsession causes him to lose friends as well as to lose sight of his dignity.  Known to be a womanizer, he treats his new love more like an object than a living person and fails to see the red flags before him warning him of his one-sided relationship.  A man who should open his eyes and truly look around him.

The object of Swann’s desires, Odette, is known for her sexual proclivities with both men and women.  Not considered attractive nor interesting, she nonetheless manages to exude that sex appeal many find hard to resist.  When she grows bored with Swann, she treats him disdainfully and carries on without regard for his feelings.  Not a very nice lady.


Suddenly I stood still, unable to move, as happens when something appears that requires not only our eyes to take it in, but involves a deeper kind of perception and takes possession of the whole of our being.

Mme Verdurin, seeing that Swann was within earshot, assumed that expression in which the two-fold desire to make the speaker be quiet and to preserve, oneself, an appearance of guilelessness in the eyes of the listener, is neutralised in an intense vacuity; in which the unflinching signs of intelligent complicity are overlaid by the smiles of innocence, an expression invariably adopted by anyone who has noticed a blunder, the enormity of which is thereby at once revealed if not to those who have made it, at any rate to him in whose hearing it ought not to have been made.  

There are in the music of the violin–if one does not see the instrument itself, and so cannot related what one hears to its form, which modifies the fullness of the sound–accents which are so closely akin to those of certain contralto voices, that one has the illusion that a singer has taken her place amid the orchestra.  

In speaking with Monsieur Proust, I would steer clear of any discussions of his mother and would instead ask how he was able to write while battling pain and chronic illness.  In the company of such a brilliant writer, I’d be tempted to jot down all words that flowed across his lips, but would contain myself and rather focus on the pleasure of his company.

My rating for Swann’s Way is a 7 out of 10.

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Next up, Graham Greene’s The Human Factor…The Human Factor


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