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I'll gladly admit it--I read Swann's Way and didn't just hate it but have no idea why anyone would like it, except to wear the liking Proust as an affectation. there's some comfort to be had in the realization that, like James Joyce, most honest critics and literary types will acknowledge that they don't like Proust much either. Still, there's something that nags--chiefly the quality of some of those who are fans--and makes one wish to at least understand their attraction. So we turn to criticisms of the books in search of answers. a recent success in that regard was Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel, which was entertaining if not convincing. But perhaps the best reader of Proust is Roger Shattuck, author in 1963 of the classic Proust's Binoculars: a study of memory, time and recognition in A La recherche du Temps Perdu and, more recently, of Proust's Way: A Field Guide to In Search of Lost Time, which offers a kind of summing up, of his decades of thought on the author and his work. It was Proust's Binoculars that made me want to read Stephane Heuet's graphic novel rendering of Proust, because Mr. Shattuck makes the argument that the books are almost a magic lantern:
The point is worth belaboring. Proust drew on an incredibly rich repertory of metaphors. But it is principally through the science and art of optics that he beholds and depicts the world. Truth--and Proust believed in it--is a miracle of vision. [...]

Sleep, memory, imagination, sense of identity--here are indeed the basic areas of refraction and illusion, and Proust allows his optical imagery to crystallize around these crucial mental operations. [...]

It is too often overlooked that in Proust the basic unit of subjective life, despite its perpetual flow, is something fixed and describable even if distorted: the image. ... [P]roust saw our image-making faculty as a means both for grasping the world and for detaching ourselves from it, the essentially double process of consciousness. [...]

The dozen or so unevenly distributed moments bienheureux [blissful moments] produced by involuntary memory contain what first appears to be the essence of Proust-Marcel's profoundest sense of reality--a fleeting recreation of the past in the present, conferring a rare and pleasurable sensation of timelessness. [...]

The ultimate moment of the book is not a moment bienheureux but a recognition. Coming after a prolonged sequence of preparatory and parallel reidentifications, the final step brings Marcel to a true self-recognition.
So, okay, that last bit may require some reading, but it certainly looks like the rest of the novel (assume it's all one long novel) is uniquely suited to the comic book form. Proust wants to be optical? Let an artist produce the images for us.

Mr. Heuet is a French comix artist and advertising executive with whose work I was previously unfamiliar, but he apparently created something of a scandal in Paris with this attempt to make Proust more accessible. His critics certainly have a point if they're arguing that he's violated the spirit of the work, the intent of which, like most modern art, is to be obscure, but the work he's produced is quite lovely. the conduciveness of the format to the novel is apparent in the book's most famous (infamous?) scene, as the detailed drawings of Marcel eating a madeleine in a drawing room give way to expansive vistas of memory. Mr. Heuet has kept Proust's prose but cut hundreds of written pages down to 72 comic pages, so the purists have to be horrified. But the effect he achieves nearly convinces you that Proust wouldn't mind. And, even if he would, his poor benighted readers must be grateful. Think of this as an exquisite version of the Classic Comics we used to read as kids. Beats the hell out of the novel.


Grade: (B+)


Stephane Heuet Links:

    -ESSAY: Abomination or Magnum Opus?: TIME.comix on an adaptation of Proust's 'Remembrance of Things Past' (ANDREW D. ARNOLD, May. 11, 2001, TIME)
    -REVIEW: of COMBRAY by Stephane Heuet (CHARLES MUDEDE, The Stranger)

Book-related and General Links:

    -EXCERPT: CHAPTER ONE of Proust's Way: A Field Guide to 'In Search of Lost Time' By ROGER SHATTUCK
    -REVIEW: of Proust's Way: A Field Guide to 'In Search of Lost Time' By ROGER SHATTUCK (PETER BROOKS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Proust's Way: A Field Guide to 'In Search of Lost Time' By ROGER SHATTUCK (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)