Swann's Way does not, say, have a lot of plot. At all. Let's get that out of the way upfront. If you're looking for a plot-driven story, look elsewhere. What it does is loop in and around certain topics, in the narrator's life and the life of Swann, and examine them in such minute detail, in flowing prose from one moment to the next, looping around the events in question. And it is beautifully written.
More than that, it contains these moments where Proust
describes an experience in a way that I've never seen on page before and
yet viscerally respond to. I get excited because small experiences I
never thought worth sharing, never realized were universal, are suddenly
there on the page, and I know them, and the way Proust describes them
brings them vividly to life.
There were many examples I
can't quite remember, but the description of the aunt waking up from
some nightmare, and that sudden, thankful realization the horrors one
was just dreaming were just that, a dream, and do not have to be lived
through, that they aren't there to haunt you anymore. Of course, when I do
that, the dreams tend to be a lot darker than that someone forced me to
get out of bed and go for a walk, as the narrator's aunt feared. But
that sense of relief, of thankfulness that what seemed so real is not
going to continue to affect me every day for the rest of my life because
it was, after all, just a dream - that I've experienced.
were many moments like this, large and small. And even when I didn't
have that shock of recognition, I still enjoyed the rest of the book,
because the leisurely tour through the the minutiae of the everyday was
so well done, and so interesting.
Swann's Way takes place in
three parts - the narrator's remembrances of his youth at Combray, when
his family first knew Swann, after Swann had made an unfortunate
marriage, and the narrator's sensitive childhood, his fears and worries,
and love for his mother. The second part takes place earlier, and
details Swann falling hopelessly in love, and progresses through the
stages of an unfortunate courtship. By the third section, we are back in
the childhood of the narrator, when he has met Swann's daughter in
Paris and fallen head over heels in love with her with all the unspoken
love of an eleven-year-old.
It's hard to know who to recommend
this book to. It's certainly not for everyone. It needs a lot of
patience, requires a lot of attention, but it richly rewarding for all
that. But I wouldn't blame those who get frustrated with its slow place,