So I’m finished! At last! I can’t believe I did it. I just finished Time Regained, the last volume of the six (as differentiated by the Modern Library edition) that comprise In Search of Lost Time. Having said that, though, I am a bit embarrassed by how long it’s taken me. I began this project in March 2015, fully intending to complete it in one year. But then a familiar pattern developed: I’d read a volume, move on to other fiction for several months or more, and then the weighing obligation to return to Proust’s world would hit me again. When 2017 neared I realized I had gone far beyond my initial time frame.
So after an exceptionally long hiatus, I returned to In Search of Lost Time and picked up Volume V, The Captive and the Fugitive. These are actually the titles of two 500-page novels bound together in one volume, but given that I’ve only just finished the former, that’s where I’ll limit my discussion here. Part of the reason for procrastinating this long (I finished Volume IV back in March) was that I’d read somewhere that Volume V was the least finished of the six volumes at the time of Proust’s death in 1922 and did not receive the same kind of assiduous editing and rewriting he was known for and had applied to the other books. As a result, there’s a fair amount of rambling (I’ll get to that in a second) as well as a few gaps and errors. In terms of the latter, there are, for example, a few characters that are said to have died (Cottard and Mme. Villeparisis) yet appear alive and healthy in later sections of the book. The other reason was that I’d read online somewhere (I can’t remember which famous critic had said it) that Volume V was the one book that In Search of Lost Time could do without—not exactly the kinds of things one wants to hear before picking up a 1000-page tome! And now that I’ve read the first half, I’d have to agree that these claims aren’t entirely unjustified.
So after a hiatus of a couple of months, during which I read other novels and story collections, I finally got back to the business of reading Proust, this time tackling the third volume, The Guermantes Way. And what a happy homecoming it was to meet all those familiar faces again! How nice it was to become reacquainted with our unnamed narrator (I understand that in Volume VI his name is finally revealed to be, not surprisingly, Marcel); the family servant, Francoise, who simultaneously dispenses equal (and hilarious) measures of both compassion and cruelty; and Marcel’s (let’s just call him that) charming and aristocratic friend, Robert St-Loup. Also back are Marcel's calculating and unctuous friend, Bloch; the aristocrats we first met at Balbec in Volume II, Mme. Villeparisis and that arrogant and irritating Baron de Charlus (the kind of character you love to hate!); and of course the narrator’s grandmother, mother and father (although the latter makes little more than a cameo appearance in this volume—more on that later).