HOW PROUST CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Alain de Botton

HOW PROUST CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

KIRKUS REVIEW

For the era of the self-help bestseller, novelist de Botton delivers a witty, entertaining literary appreciation of the author of Remembrance of Things Past. Can you find real-life lessons in one and a half million words spread over seven volumes, written by a hypochrondriacal asthmatic Frenchman who divided his life almost exclusively between dinner parties and bed rest? De Botton says you can, whether "How to Love Life Today" or "How to Suffer Successfully." De Botton has self-consciously mixed genres in his fiction, e.g., biography and the novel in Kiss and Tell (1996), which hinted at his Proust worship. This blend of literary criticism by both de Botton and Proust, snippets from Remembrance of Things Past, biographic tidbits, and self-improvement pastiches is not as unserious as it appears. Proust, after all, was an almost-epigone of John Ruskin- -the embodiment of seriousness about art in one's life--as well as of philosopher Henri Bergson (who goes, thankfully, unremarked). De Botton even turns up a gem of Proust's miscellaneous criticism in an essay on the artist Chardin, whose closely observed paintings of ordinary people and objects Proust recommends as an aesthetic tonic to an imaginary depressed "young man of limited means and artistic tastes." Elsewhere de Botton discusses the hang-ups of Proust's characters Mme. Verdurin and Charles Swann, Proust on love, and the verb "to proustify" ("to express a slightly too conscious attitude of geniality, together with what would vulgarly have been called affectations"). Quoted selectively, Proust himself proves aphoristic--"In reality, every reader is, while he is reading, the reader of his own self." For a painless crib, de Botton's tongue-in-cheek tract beats out Harold Bloom on the Western canon and David Denby on Great Books without even a madeleine break.

Pub Date: May 14th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44275-8
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1997




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