In Search of Lost time: The Way by Swann’s by Marcel Proust vol 1

This semi-autobiographical novel is an epic journey of a child’s first understanding of love and art, written in little over 3000 pages with no chapter divisions and split into several books. Proust’s work is noted to be very influential, if not the most influencing book, especially at the publication time of 1922, yet not popularly read today. The first ‘Way by Swann’s’ begins with Proust as a child when he realises he has a nervous condition as he can’t sleep until his mother kisses him goodnight. For me, his ability to write in such depth about his own psychology as a child and the way in which he is able to decipher every moment with a deep understanding is a pleasure to read. Proust excels in beautiful prose regarding how he and certain people in his life perceive nature, place and affection.

As the first part takes place partly by his summer house next to the almost regal Swann house. The second part focuses on Swann, who is neurotically obsessed with Odette, a frivolous woman who he falls in love with. At first I found the beginning of this story quite lengthy without any real significance until Swann becomes neurotic himself. This again is where the novel excels, in the understanding of relationships and of the human experience. Proust enables us to understand the precise moments of obsession to such a point that it becomes rational and almost a study of psychology.

The third part of the book is a shorter piece returning to Proust as a young boy familiarly obsessively falling in love with Swann’s daughter. This subsequently reveals the ending of Swann’s story with regards to his lover and makes you feel like the entire story has been well-rounded despite the open ending and narrative ambiguities.

This volume is a very nostalgic intricately involving piece reflecting the hindsight of memory and passion which transcends time. The lengthy piece extracts the condition of anxiety to the point of obsession, leaving no significant thought astray in the complex condition in which at some point, we all suffer. Proust’s ability to extract incredible meaning, at length, from minor occurrences are wonderful to read if not stifling in conception.

Metamorphosis & Other Short Stories by Franz Kafka

While reading Kafka’s short stories I quickly understood how prestigious they have become to the significance of literature and society. His writing inspired the term ‘Kafkaesque’ which means unusually sinister; though I would suggest that his works reach much further into social senses with regard to a symbolic reflection into everyday life.

Metamorphosis is the most unusual story about a man who wakes up to find himself turned into a beetle. Usually my interest would wane at such a premise though it soon became apparent that symbolically, the theme represented that either Kafka saw the working man as an insect, a cog in the machine serving a higher power without value of life and worked without question for a low wage and status. His life was no more than a life of an insect. Further, it could be that the unfortunate victim Gregor Samsa had not in fact turned into a beetle and that actually he had gone insane.

On his deathbed, Kafka ordered his friend to destroy most of his works. Least not forget that Kafka was a successful insurance executive and writing was his hobby in his spare time. Only a few of his stories were published in his lifetime. Thankfully his friend Max Brod, failed his request and sent them for publication instead in hope that Kafka wasn’t in his right mind with that decision.

Some his short stories not over a page long, create a powerful insight into our existence in our society and humanity. ‘The Consideration of Amateur Jockeys’ reflects upon the unsatisfying position of winning and competition and how ridiculous it is to be surrounded by contempt and envy over such trivialities.

Some of his stories such as ‘The Rejection’ delve deeper into his and our psychology. ‘In The Penal Colony’ is a powerfully uncomfortable story of a torture machine which is sad to represent the sinister foreboding of looming war.

I would summarise that Kafka’s stories are an unusually menacing reflection upon society with use of surrealism and plays on the conflictions of decisions and paralysis of life. Even though I wouldn’t consider his works to be most treasured, I understand the necessity of his unique writing.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Review

‘The Kite Runner’ is a culturally rich emotive story, despite its weaknesses, has an important insight of an undiscovered perspective.

After reading classic literature by James Joyce or Guestve Flaubert, The Kite Runner had a lot to live up to.  I found the book culturally and emotionally rich with reference to the troubled history of Afghanistan though found the prose a little matter of fact.  Hosseini provides us with a very brutal heartfelt story though relies on great coincidence and symbolism to resolve the coward that the main character becomes at the beginning of the story.

The novel redeems itself with great descriptive prose towards the end though for me, the resounding meaning I take from this book is the horrific corruption and history or Afghanistan. The Kite Runner allows us an insight and emotive story of life in a place we actually know little about.

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‘Dubliners – James Joyce’

I chose this book as an introduction to the renowned complexities of James Joyce. I was surprised by how short these short stories were, sometimes a little over ten pages though this was not to its shortcomings.

I found that some of the stories based in Dublin, were so rich in prose that they need not continue further, the point was significantly made. Conversely, I found that some of the stories as the book develops became less interesting with slightly on going prose, though the final story ‘the dead’ redeemed any misgivings with wonderfully written sensitive writing that was evident in earlier stories.

After reading each story, I read a brief analysis to fully understand the subtle yet complex themes each event contained.  It is true that paralysis and routine are reoccurring themes of the stories with often sensational epiphical moments that are so intelligently placed, further creates the rich context in which it was written.

Joyce is reluctant to offer metaphoric symbolism yet offers an equally encouraging use of descriptive psychological representative prose like that of Flaubert. This is unlike the recent books I have read, allowing the reader to think more freely into captured meaning. This is not to suggest that the stories aren’t symbolic of Dublin or of the human condition which resoundingly leave you feeling part of its being.

After reading ‘the dead’ it seemed as if the first story, ‘The Sisters’ suddenly became increasingly meaningful and nostalgic where as the initial first reading may leave some questioning.

In summary, Joyce’s Dubliners is a richly intelligent slice of life novel that embeds an unforgettable feeling of realism that leaves you all the better for it.

Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

Madame Bovary ‘c’est moi’, was true for Flaubert’s life let alone when he wrote it after reading his short biography. My c’est moi’ relation to Emma descended with her consumerism and melodramatic exertions, his heroine fell from grace, though not through having affairs. I sympathise with his intentions refined within the context of when it was written, though possibly I desired a revelation to escape the prison for which she was contained. At times, she even became irritating, which I presume was intentional by Flaubert to further incite feeling towards her.

My question is; why does it start in first person only at the beginning in the perspective of his school friend looking back? Was it to be unconventional against literature of that time?

I felt that Emma’s story was descending  to her death, though felt it would be more apt to let her live a miserable ever after? Her death was surrounded by pomposity which annoyed me as I felt it taken it away from the intimacy of her story, though understand Flaubert was pointing the finger at them in social context. Actually I was more emotionally involved when Monsieur Renault discovered the death of his daughter, probably due to his rare good natured character.

The writing style is wonderful to read. I think that it’ll be more difficult to appreciate other writers as this criticises their cliched imagery or symbolism etc. I’ll read Bouvard & Pecuchet at some point too.

Overall a wonderful unexpected following read that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

After reading any book I read the introduction which proved most interesting in this case. The introduction tells of Conrad’s fascinating life story as a merchant from Poland to failed suicide attempt to master of the English language. It would seem Marlow’s story is Conrad’s story, a fascinating journey of his sanity in which he prizes himself out to offer beautiful insight.

I do feel that as Conrad once said himself, the symbolism is often too direct. With the carefully placed use of ‘darkness’ throughout the story, I couldn’t help but feel it was a cliche that pushed me away from the suspension of disbelief.

It is ironic that I read “Madame Bovery’ prior to this text, as Flaubert was a great influence to Conrad despite his contempt for writing in English which he seen as ‘all English words are instruments for exciting blurred emotions.’

 

Overall, I found ‘Heart of Darkness’ to be ultimately inspiring in a metaphysical sense. After all, I am well aware of my own desire to understand the myself and the world through the enlightenment of written text.