Review: Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust.

In Search of Lost Time is still my favorite novel. And, I have to say, while Within A Budding Grove is certainly a suggestive and metaphorical and lovely title, I feel that the more recent translation’s title is more keeping with the letter and the spirit of the original: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. While it would be an oversimplification to say that this section is all about looking for a little play, that wouldn’t be entirely wrong. This book follows the teenage years of our narrator. He falls in love for the first time. And, he’s a total creeper about girls. I mean, seriously. He’s creepy and then he tries to recruit his friend (who is totally devoted to his own mistress, possibly because he’s trying to not be gay, I don’t know, I don’t want to put anything on a character, especially a character that could charm the pants off of me but, I’m just saying, his devotion to his woman is either a little touching or a little too much) to help him with the ladies…well, I’m getting away with myself.

In this section of the novel, our narrator moves to Paris and spends a lot of time with the young Gilberte Swann and then later, after some distance has grown between himself and Gilberte with Gilberte’s mother, Mme. Swann (formerly Odette de Crecy, whom I hated for all of Swann’s Way.) I like Mme. Swann, I have to say. She grew on me. He spends the rest of the novel at Balbec, in the town by the sea where he meets Robert, marquis de Saint-Loup-en-Bray (not going to lie, this is the possibly gay one with the mistress that I just find so charming.) Saint-Loup is a Guermantes and he is visiting his mother at the seaside before going off to do his military duty in another town on the coast. He’s lovely. His mother is lovely. We’re introduced to more of the Guermantes extended family and we’re also introduced to painters, ambassadors and long and beautiful sentences about the countryside, art, women, life, everything.

I listened to this book while driving two and from Iowa over winter break and I have to tell you that ISOLT is not a car book. The observations made by Proust through the narrator may really get at the heart of things but they require concentration (which you don’t have to spare in the car) and can also be quite tedious (if you’re stuck sitting in the car for many hours.) While I did enjoy the audio book presentation (Neville Jason is a fine reader) I just can’t get behind listening to this in the car.

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