One week ago, I reviewed Mary McAuliffe's Twilight of the Belle Epoque. I mentioned a lot of Paris's finest artists who appear in that book, but one I didn't mention was Marcel Proust. Proust was one of Paris's leading authors in the early 20th century. Today, he is best known for his masterwork À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time / In Remembrance of Things Past), a lengthy social commentary released from 1909-1927.
When talking to my dad over the Canada Day long weekend, he mentioned he'd never read that book but would like to read it. Being the hopefully adequate son I am, I purchased it yesterday.*
Here's the interesting part: this book is surprisingly difficult to purchase. One would think buying a book would be the easiest part of the journey toward its eventual reading (and review, if you're like me). However:
- The reason I keep saying "the book" or "this book" is because translators of Proust can't even agree on the English-language title. Some editions say In Search of Lost Time, whereas others say In Remembrance of Things Past.
- Some editions have 6 volumes, others have 7, and yet others have 12. I purchased the 7-volume set.
- The volume titles vary from translation to translation. Some differences are minor, such as "The Captive" instead of "The Prisoner". Others vary wildly, such as "The Cities of the Plain" instead of "Sodom and Gomorrah".** On the plus side, the last volume, "Time Regained", is always called "Time Regained", making it easy to see where any edition ends.
- The multiplicity of volumes means that any given bookstore may have some volumes, no volumes, or different volumes by different publishers.
- Publishers have differing definitions of the word "volume". I ended up purchasing Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, and "Volume II", which is actually Volumes IV-VII in the same book.
- You can pretty much forget about the accuracy of page numbers. French literature students assigned this book should be given a copy. Otherwise, when the professor says "on page 526...", I can assure you every student will have a different idea of which scene is being referenced.
- Due to the book's sheer length, there is virtually no way to purchase it as one physical book. Expect to endure what I did, or else pay a premium ($100+) for a box set. It's essentially Metallica's Binge and Purge but for early 20th-century French literature.
It took a solid 5-10 minutes with Proust's Wikipedia article to ensure I had indeed purchased the book, the whole book, and nothing but the book.
Here's a picture I took of the "copy" I purchased:
If this book seems long, that's why I'm delegating its consumption to my retired father. When I retire in a few decades, I'll read it too. At that point, there'll be a lot of things past for me to remember anyway.
*For those readers in Toronto, at the BMV at Yonge and Eglinton. Shoutout to Terry, who I discussed the book with while it sat on the counter. On reading this book, he said it'd take "a winter". I don't doubt that.
**In fairness, Sodom and Gomorrah are on a plain. No mention I've read of either ever includes a mountain, cliff, gorge or ridge.