How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Bottom

Posted December 4, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 6 Comments

How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de BottomTitle: How Proust Can Change Your Life (Goodreads)
Author: Alain de Bottom
Published: Picador, 1997
Pages: 215
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust is probably the one book all bookish people are afraid to tackle. It is only a few pretentious people that have actually read it, and I plan to be one of them. Alain de Bottom has put together a collection of essays on what Proust can offer to today’s readers.

In my reading slump, which I’m debating whether it was real or not, I only felt like reading non-fiction. I picked this book because I felt like this would be a quick read and I was interested to know more about Proust and the book In Search of Lost Time. This book doesn’t really offer any good insights  to   these two topics. I think this is a book designed to try and convince people into reading In Search of Lost Time but I feel that anyone reading this one would have or are planning to read it anyway.

There is a little about the life of Marcel Proust, but only enough to give you a small taste. This left me more intrigued by the man and wanting to read a biography. De Bottom left me confused about the life of Proust and I had too many questions left unanswered. This really didn’t help this book at all, especially since Proust is an enigma (to me) and the tiny parts he shared about his life didn’t explain anything.

When it came to talking about À la recherche du temps perdu I was left thinking about the Monty Python skit about the “Summarise Proust Competition” where each contestant is given 15 seconds to try and summarise In Search of Lost Time (all seven volumes). In fact this skit was mentioned in this book as well, but trying to condense 4,000+ pages in 200 pages is not effective. My understanding of In Search for Lost Time, is that it is incredibly complex, intricate and descriptive, not a book you can summarise.

I feel like this was almost pointless, it left me with too many unanswered thoughts and no real answers. I’m none the wiser about Proust or In Search of Lost Time. There were some antidotes that were interesting but all in all, I feel like I wasted my time. I want to work my way through the seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time but I’m not sure if I can manage it. I wonder if anyone has any tips; reading this book wasn’t the answer.

6 responses to “How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Bottom

  1. Violet

    I think it makes more sense if you’ve read Proust, but I don’t remember liking it much. The best way to read Proust is just to read him. I read ISOLT in one hit and it was a really interesting experience. Fascinating, boring, moving, hilarious, infuriating, frustrating, but always interesting. You need to read the Modern Library Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translation because it’s the best.

    • Michael @ Literary Exploration

      Reading In Search of Lost Time in one hit is very impressive. I will also make sure I find the Modern Library edition of this book.

  2. tanya boughtflower

    Ouch. I’m glad I read your review. I’m a fan of Proust and probably would have picked this up, but you sound rather disappointed in it. Maybe it will better for me to revel in the memory of reading Proust.

  3. Marcelita Swann

    Understanding all the references can slow down the reading, but to the rescue…a new, ANNOTATED “Swann’s Way!”
    Yep, Yale knew we needed something easier…

    “Carter corrects previous translating missteps to bring readers closer to Proust’s intentions while also providing enlightening notes to clarify biographical, historical, and social contexts.

    “Presented in a reader-friendly format alongside the text, these annotations will enrich and deepen the experience of Proust’s novel, immersing readers in the world of an unsurpassed literary genius.”

  4. Marcelita Swann

    If you are serious about reading:
    I just bought William C. Carter’s “Swann’s Way,” based on C. K. Scott Moncrieff’s masterful translation.
    It’s the first time it has ever been annotated in English! Now, I will know what a “Bressant” hairstyle looks like.

    Mark Calkin ( ): “To conclude: I really wish Yale would publish this edition more quickly than one volume per year. And it is because of Prof. Carter’s notes that this is will now be my first choice among editions I’d recommend.”

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