Thursday 20 February 2020

Book review: The Guermantes Way

Well, what can one say? Wiki has a decent section on it, and for a summary it's fairly good, capturing most of the "events" and some of the tone. I put events into quotes because of course very little actually happens; and one of the frustrations of the book is turning over yet another page to discover that still nothing has happened, but we get some more descriptions of things.

This is the volume that contains the beautiful scene in the restaurant where Saint-Loup, in order to bring our narrator a shawl, leaps up onto the back of the seats. It is charming.

The Dreyfuss affair comes in. I don't understand it (I mean, the DA itself; how it fits into the book is perfectly sensible); perhaps it is a simple proxy for anti-semitism, or perhaps for patriotism, or some other mixture that you'd need to understand the affairs of the time.

This volume charts our narrator's rise form the fringes of society to being invited to the highest levels. He himself seems somewhat surprised by his entry and there's nothing obvious to explain why he would be so invited (most of the conversation reported is of others; when our hero speaks it is usually indirect, as "I ventured to say that..."; we rarely learn what he said). But that society is described as shallow; the narrator, whilst sometimes admiring one facet of, for example, the Duchesse de Guermantes's character, invariably notes how, errrm, well, how shallow her understanding is. So we can perhaps suppose that he has literary merit; and probably there is some autobiography in there. Along the way there's a good deal of anecdote-imparting, name dropping, and generally introducing people like me who know nothing about it to the society of the time. Which I find it's chief virtue.

No comments:

Post a Comment