DeBotton, Alain. How Proust Can Change Your Life. London : Picador, 1997
Reviewed by Crosby
After some frustration attempting to read Marcel Proust’s mammoth contribution to our literary culture, I put it to one side to read further later.
Then I came across this book. It is charming, humorous and succinct. It makes no attempt to summarize Proust which would be meaningless anyway: amongst this book’s points is that the reason for reading Proust is not to come away with facts or a plot, but rather to experience his internal worldview through his exquisite detailing. DeBotton goes on to say that there is, indeed, a contest to summarize Proust: you must do it in 10 seconds or less. (This is to emphasize that Proust cannot be summarized.)
DeBotton gives various delightful quotes from people who read or attempted to read Proust’s book including that of a publisher who complained why anybody would want to read a book that takes 30 plus pages to describe somebody waking up and another from an American woman residing in Italy who sent a letter to Proust describing herself as young and attractive and that she spent 3 years devoting all her time to reading his book and all she wanted to know from Proust was whether he could just tell her in a couple of sentences what the book was about. (By the way, this sentence comes nowhere near to one of Proust’s run-on sentences, which ran on for some 300 lines: another of the many little items in DeBotton’s slim tome.)
DeBotton pulls out various themes and passages from Proust’s tremendous work. His book has chapters dealing in subjects ranging from love to how to put down a book, and, then, shows how, by reading Proust, you can gain an enriched perspective on life.
Whether you have read Proust or are thinking of reading his gargantuan classic or if you want to fool others into believing you have read and understand him, try DeBotton’s tidbit of a book. It is not weighed down with heavy academia and analysis. Instead, it will give you perspective with a smile. Oh, and it has some drawings.
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