For some years I have tried to read Proust's In Search of Lost Time, or, as I prefer to call it, Remembrance of Things Past (the original, more elegant translation of the title). I can attest that Swann's Way is a masterpiece: I have read it thrice, because thrice I have started and abandoned the project. Two or three years ago I finished The Guermantes Way, Volume III, and then took a long break. A very long break. And now I am reading Book IV.
Yesterday my deluxe Penguin copy of Volume IV, Sodom and Gomorrah, dominated the breakfast table. It was propped against a stack of cookbooks so I could read while I ate. I told my husband I was "finally" starting Volume IV.
"So far I hate it."
"It's not one of the best."
He tells me it is better in French. And, ironically, I could easily have learned French in the time it has taken me to get to Volume IV.
The English title of Sodom and Gomorrah used to be Cities of the Plain. What was wrong with that? I sat down with my modern edition, and found the narrator's musings on "Sodomites" dull. His speculations about Sodom and Gomorrah are inspired by his observation of a homosexual pick-up: the Baron Charles de Guermentes and Jupien, the family's former tailor, make some obvious flirtatious signals, and then retire indoors to consummate their flirtation. Later, the narrator attends the Princesse de Guermantes' party. That keeps us busy for long time (the baron, M. Charles, is there, too.) Finally, the narrator, who is a semi-invalid, goes to Balbec on vacation and again embarks on a relationship with Albertine.
Now that we're at Balbec, it is becoming more interesting, but I disliked the Sturrock translation and switched to an old Modern Library copy. It actually is better - for me at least.
Here's what you do when you're committed to reading a book but dislike it.
1. You watch an hour of Slow Horses on Apple TV.
2. You decide to ride your bike to a bookstore to buy the book Slow Horses, but unfortunately it is too windy to bike.
4. Then you loiter over making the perfect cup of coffee. The first pot is too strong, so you spend 20 minutes cleaning the coffee machine because nobody has used it in a long time.
It occurs to me that my approach to Proust is "checklist reading." My only reason for continuing Vol. IV is to finish it so I can read Volume V.
Is Proust necessary? Perhaps I shall skip to Volume V.