You’ve probably heard that In Search of Lost Time moves.
I’m on page one hundred and fifty-eight of Swann’s Way, Volume One of Proust’s masterpiece. I couldn’t really summarize “what has happened” so far because past and present are layered on top of each other, like that state between awake and asleep, memories without borders. It’s like looking at a Christmas tree. In the corner of the room it glimmers with coloured lights and tinsel. Then you come up close. You touch each ornament, this one you bought for your first tree, this one your son made, that one hung on the tree in your parent’s house.
For a long time the narrator went to bed early. When he was little he tried to find ways to get his mother to come up to kiss him goodnight. On summer afternoons he read books in his room when his grandmother thought he should be playing outside. A man named Swann sometimes came to the house in Combray to visit.
The narrator remembered a lot of other stuff too. Like, there was this one time when some soldiers from the local garrison rode through the the streets of Combray. All the people in town came out of their houses to watch. Even the narrator stopped reading and looked up from his book. When the soldiers had left, life returned to normal, but for some time after, people remained on the street.
“And in front of every house, even those where it was not the custom, the servants, and sometimes even the masters, would sit and watch, festooning the doorsteps with a dark, irregular fringe, like the border of shells and sea-weed which a stronger tide than usual leaves on the beach, as though trimming it with embroidered crape, when the sea itself has retreated.”
According to V.S. Naipaul, a good sentence shouldn’t have more than ten or twelve words. Proust’s beautiful sentence has sixty-four.
The people standing on their doorsteps are “like the border of shells and sea-weed which a stronger tide than usual leaves on the beach”. AND the beach, with its shells and sea-weed, is like something too. It’s like a piece of “embroidered crape”. I love that he does that, piles one image on top of another, and it’s as smooth as the tide-washed sand.
Remember when you went to see that band in the park? It was a summer day, and you sat on the grass with a few thousand other people. It was sunny when you first got there, but the sun went down about half way through the concert. When it was over, everyone gathered their blankets and backpacks, and pulled the leaves out of their hair. Empty cups, bags and scraps of paper decorated the grass, glowing white in the floodlights. You all walked out of the park slowly, partly because the gate and parking lot and bus stops and traffic lights were all lined with people, and partly because you were still floating a little bit on that feeling you had when the music was playing and you sang along with the crowd, and you weren’t ready to let go of that feeling, like the people of Combray when the soldiers rode through town.