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.