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
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<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.

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