Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Book of books – The Captive

This is the fifth volume in Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust and it is one of the shortest volumes so far coming in at 422 pages and maybe it is as a result of that that the book feels tighter in story and locations than the other four volumes

Plot summary
Marcel is living with Albertine in his apartment but despite having a live in mistress is consumed by jealousy and convinced that she is a lesbian. He asks people to spy on her, controls her movement and then seems to get some sort of fuel for his fire because she does constantly lie. He threatens to leave her and gets a great many confessions of deceit out of her but in the end he backs down and asks her to stay, revealing his weakness. The question you are asking from the start is: who is the captive but with the volume ending with Albertine escaping the apartment and leaving the answer, if it was in doubt, becomes clear.

Is it well written?
The sense of captivity is one you pick up as a reader so you feel worn down by the repetition of argument; the constant living in fear and the limited world of Marcel’s apartment soon becomes a prison cell. When he does finally go out he comes across De Charlus who is experiencing a similar form of captivity of the heart with Morel the musician. This volume feels very much like a landing stage that you have to spend some time on before heading off towards the climax of this seven volume work.

Should it be read?
If you have embarked on a mission to read the entire story then you can hardly skip a volume. It is sometimes hard to stick with it because your empathy for Marcel is nearing zero and the tolerance of his society is also hovering close to the indifferent mark on the barometer of interest. What keeps you going is that this has to be going somewhere and all the way through you hop that either he or Albertine will have the guts to make a break in the relationship. When it finally happens there is a sense of relief and the time is right to move the story on.

Leads to
The final two volumes of Remembrance of Things Past or other Proust type books, of which in recent weeks I have read and posted reviews of Nabokov’s Speak, Memory and Dreams of My Russian Summers by Makine.

Version read – Chatto & Windus hardback published in 1982

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