Young Girls in Flower


In the last week or so, I advanced to Volume 2 of In Search of Lost Time. So far, we have returned to the youthful narrator’s perspective, and we are hearing about his naïve love for Swann’s daughter, Gilberte. We are also gaining more insights into Swann’s obsessive and disastrous affair with Odette, and we understand a little better how they came to be married, despite Swann having arrived at the sobering realization, at the end of Swann in Love, that Odette really just isn’t his type.

And Proust continues to do a very strange thing with the point of view; he regularly slides from his own first-person account of things to an omniscient narrator privy to everyone’s internal motivations and back again. He somehow manages to do this fluidly, without the slightest jolt to the narrative; we simply shift from, say, a dinner party at which the narrator is present, to deep background regarding events from years before the narrator would even have been born.

I experience no jolt because, I think, of the absolute trust he inspires. He could tell me about anything, however dull or otherwise not to my taste, and I’d happily listen for as long as he wished to speak, because he has proven beyond doubt that he can make insightful and profound use of anything at all, including wallpaper, furniture, mediocre Romantic sonatas — and of course madeleines dipped in herbal tea.

By a curious coincidence, my wife spotted a Proust reference in an unlikely spot. As a ramp up to the imminent theatrical release of its sequel, some cable channel has been repeatedly airing an action flick called The Transporter. At one point, a character bakes some madeleines, prompting a revery from the French police chief on the nature of memory and observation, noting that Proust, being a “details man,” would have made a great detective; he adds that in fact it had been his reading of Proust as a youth that inspired him to become an investigator.

She had just told me of this scene when we turned on the TV — and there was the movie, moments away from the very scene in question. And in a typically Proustian way, I experienced the scene twice — but the first one seemed more real, because it had been Ana’s story, and the actual film itself, upon which her version was based, seemed like a mere enactment.

(The silly Python song faded weeks ago, thankfully — except when my wife asks me, “And in the second book: what did Proust write about, write about?")