Book of a Lifetime: In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

From The Independent archive: Lisa Appignanesi on being swept away by one of the 20th century’s great works of fiction

Friday 04 June 2021 21:30
<p>The Frenchman was a great writer on the psychology of everyday life</p>

The Frenchman was a great writer on the psychology of everyday life

Proust’s capacious novel seems to have woven itself into my days and thoughts for more years than I like to remember.

I first came across it when I was about 14 in wintry Montreal, where the days are short and the nights long. My parents didn’t have many books, but a friend’s father had a library. One day, he said I could look round and choose. I don’t know why my eyes stopped on the two thick volumes with creamy spines. I certainly didn’t recognise the author, whom I imagined was pronounced “Prowst”. Maybe it was the title: Remembrance of Things Past (later renamed In Search of Lost Time). My mother was always remembering distant countries traversed somehow to arrive in Canada. But I suspect I was just greedy and the spine’s evocative list – Swann’s Way, Within a Budding Grove and so on – suggested that there were a lot of novels here, all in one.

When I started reading, I was swept away. The fact now surprises me. I loved reading, but I was wonderfully ignorant, knew nothing of homosexuality or even sexuality, and hadn’t yet reached the age of university pretension. I would read anything and everything: Little Women side by side with Jane Eyre; the latest doctor and nurse romance; a comic or cereal packet.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in