I have to admit, I haven’t read all of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (the literal translation is “In search of lost time”–I love the poetry of that title), but I have gotten to the beginning of the first chapter. While this isn’t much, relative to the entire, multi-volume, 1000-page plus novel, it does mean that I’ve read the 60 pages or so of prologue. Unfortunately, I’d have to track down some altogether too elusive time in order to get further, as the narrative unfurls at a very different pace to what we’re accustomed to today and the work is a rather long one indeed.
Still, the prologue is a wonderful read. In it, Proust captures and evokes the limitations of memory in a way that often made me chuckle with delight: he speaks of how his family would go to a small town, Combray, for the summer, and his memories of it are vague and distant. A common enough experience–we all no doubt have distant memories of some childhood vacation spots.
But then, he digs deeper, reaching around to the limitations of his recollection and attempting to encapsulate those limitations in words and text. He speaks of how he clearly remembers the corridor and his darkened bedroom, in this childhood getaway home, but how everything to the side of the corridor is dark, murky and unformed, because he cannot remember them. The image of a small boy in his bed, lying in his room, and the corridor beyond, surrounded by dim nothingness is a powerful one, that finds its echo in the marvellous dream worlds evoked by Inception and even the memory made real of the dead wife Reya, in Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris, who is doomed and tragic, not necessarily because Reya was tragic, but because that is how her widower husband remembers her: memory as reshaping one’s sense of reality.