A lifetime’s reading of Proust’s masterpiece
One of the masterpieces of twentieth-century fiction, A la recherche du temps perdu belongs in the tradition of the Initiation Story, the journey it describes combining elements drawn from the earlier narratives of great expectations and lost illusions, while recasting them in ways that are distinctively Proust’s. The eminent literary scholar, Christopher Prendergast, traces that journey as it unfolds on an arc defined by the polarity of his title, living and dying. His book offers a chapter by chapter exploration of the rich sensory and impressionistic tapestry of a lived world, woven by the pulse of desire, the hauntings of memory and an ever alert responsiveness to tastes, perfumes, sounds, and colours. It also traces the construction of a unique architecture of narrative time and a corresponding mode of story-telling, marked by all manner of loops, swerves, detours, regressions and returns, from the macro level of the novel’s plot to the micro level of the famously elaborate Proustian sentence. The lives of his characters, both major and minor, are shown as criss-crossing and converging in ways that often take the reader by surprise, before descending the arc on an irreversible trajectory of decline, as the body starts to fail and the grave beckons.
“Marcel Proust has suffered a special punishment for being one of the wittiest, most profound and delightful prose writers in Western literature. Somehow, this most entertaining, least boring of novelists has become a massive bore-magnet. Christopher Prendergast's commentary comes as a great relief as well as a real delight. Here is somebody thoroughly drenched in Proust, who has thought deeply about his huge work on life, death and time; but who wears his learning lightly, writing with verve and gusto — a real sense of fun — as he finds fresh things to say about old controversies. This, like Proust's, is a work buzzing with appetite and curiosity, restlessly interested in the subject. I enjoyed it hugely. More important, it sent me straight back to the master. No Proustian should be without it.”
—Andrew Marr, author and broadcaster
“Literate, lively, and leavened by recurring moments of wry and gentle humor, Christopher Prendergast's Living and Dying with Marcel Proust is a feast both for readers already acquainted with the massive In Search of Lost Time who wants to revisit it and those who want to test the waters of Proust's world. Prendergast steps back to survey key aspects of the novel in the round while also leading us through innumerable close-up examinations of the text. He refers us with easy familiarity to other writers for perspective, but all the while keeps us in the delightful, eccentric and transcendent company of Proust himself with grace and perceptiveness. Most enjoyable and enlightening.”
—Lydia Davis, winner of the International Booker Prize
Christopher Prendergast is Emeritus Professor of Modern French Literature at Cambridge University and a Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. He directed the 2002 Penguin translation of A la recherche du temps perdu and is the author of Mirages and Mad Beliefs: Proust the Skeptic published in 2013.