A masterful life of the eccentric pioneer who mapped the modern mind in Remembrance of Things Past (more accurately
translated here as In Search of Lost Time), by the noted Proust scholar (French/Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham; The Proustian
Quest, not reviewed).
In seeking to reveal how one of the century’s towering novelists (1871–1922) "came to produce what is arguably the most
brilliant, sustained prose narration in the history of literature," Carter has produced a long, loving annotation to the
autobiographical In Search. He explores his subject with a scholar's care, a novelist's eye, and a generous tolerance for readers
without French. His hero is invariably ill, most often with asthma, a condition he exacerbates with drugs, a nocturnal lifestyle,
and an erratic diet (in his last days he consumes only ice cream and beer; his death follows his adamant refusal to accept medical
treatment for pneumonia). Proust's legendary eccentricities are on full display: his cork-lined living quarters (to ensure the quiet
he craves), his vampirish avoidance of daylight, his endless revisions of his texts (In Search requires "one of the most demanding
productions in the history of publishing"), and his prodigality (he recklessly spends nearly all of his enormous inheritance).
Noting the fascination of Proust’s lifestyle for contemporary readers, Carter labors to explain his complicated sexuality (he fights
a duel with a reviewer who has suggested he is gay, but he also pursues young men, regarding waiters at the Ritz as a particular
delicacy) and is determined to establish that Proust "never attempted to deny his Jewish heritage." Not even Carter's considerable
narrative gifts, however, can make Proust's bedridden later years, marked by a contentious, complicated correspondence with his
publisher, as compelling as his early, more extroverted life.
A prodigious work, rich and racy, informed by fact, animated by imagination, utterly worthy of its wondrous subject. (47
illus., not seen)