Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time

Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time

by Phyllis Rose
     
 

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A brilliant and original memoir of midlife-a writing life, a reading life, a woman's life-by the distinguished author of Parallel Lives
Phyllis Rose, a biographer, essayist, and literary critic, finally got around to reading Proust in middle age. As Rose learned, you don't have to live through an unhappy childhood or celebrity adulthood to write an… See more details below

Overview


A brilliant and original memoir of midlife-a writing life, a reading life, a woman's life-by the distinguished author of Parallel Lives
Phyllis Rose, a biographer, essayist, and literary critic, finally got around to reading Proust in middle age. As Rose learned, you don't have to live through an unhappy childhood or celebrity adulthood to write an autobiography. You just need patience, candor, and a close-to-scientific passion for truth. She begins to learn how to navigate the intricacies of Proust's novels, at the same time reflecting on the course of her own life.

With striking honesty, Rose writes about marriage, friendship, childbirth, and her own mortality. As she moves from daily experience to what she's read and back again, she illuminates how the close reading of her own life reveals truths for the rest of us and how such a subtle celebration of books can help us live.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This memoir starts with a prologue and first chapter that are so lovely, it makes the 200-plus remaining pages pallid by comparison. Rose starts by recounting her spotty career with Proust and her determination, finally, to soldier through In Search of Lost Time. Her recollection in these few pages is insightful, well written and appealingly modest. For a brief moment, she seems about to follow the tack taken by Alain de Botton's delightful How Proust Can Change Your Life: "Rapidly," she says, "I began applying the fruits of Proust's research to my own life." She also muses on Proust's use of such devices as paradox or epic simile and how they enriched her life. But from there on it's almost entirely strict memoir and Rose (Parallel Lives), who is so skillful at understanding the subtleties of other people's lives, doesn't have the same touch with her own. There are fine moments of self-revelation (particularly in her eventual acceptance of the fact that she had a happy childhood), but too often she veers discomfittingly close to unflattering self-absorption. In these instances, Rose talks about how she, an artist, deals with the importune questions of those who are not; or mistakes brand names for telling detail (she wanted a Mercedes but settled on a Saab before heading off to Il Cantinori for a Pinot Grigio); or reports on her lengthy free-association sessions. Early on, Rose points out how easily Proust moves from the particular to the general, from the small to the grand. Unfortunately, Rose's small points tend to stay that way. (Oct.)
Library Journal
A writer (Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, LJ 10/1/83) and professor at Wesleyan University, Rose finally buckled down to read Proustand rediscovered her own past.
Kirkus Reviews
Proust is less the subject of Rose's pleasurable, rambling memoir than its guiding spirit, whose wisdom and worldview Rose invokes as she reviews the travails and satisfactions of a year in her life.

A row with her Key West landlady involving potted palms and banana treees; hectic preparations for a dinner honoring a mystery guest (who turns out to be Salman Rushdie); her friend Annie Dillard's cancer scare; and her own mother's halting progress toward death—these and other events take biographer Rose (Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time, 1989, etc.) into a Proustian blend of social gossip (mostly of literary Key West) and a remembrance of things in her own past. The passing of time, the attempt to transcend it (in collecting antiquities), the need to create something original before it is too late, and the immense difficulty of doing so, are among the novelist's themes that resonate for Rose. Most affecting is her newfound appreciation of the middle-class suburban 1950s childhood she had long reviled: "I never `understood' my childhood because I never understood what a happy childhood it was." This encounter with her past culminates in a visit with her sister to their childhood home for the first time in 36 years. Unlike the fictional Marcel, who returns to Paris after a long absence and finds it much changed, Rose finds the house miraculously preserved, like a museum of her childhood, thus bringing no epiphany but merely the satisfaction of memories confirmed. Still, while there is much to savor here, there are disappointments, an occasional sense of incompleteness; we learn more, for instance, about the social hubbub over her dinner for Rushdie than we do about the writer himself.

Perhaps the best part of the book is its opening chapter, in which Rose, having overcome her own inability to penetrate Proust, explains richly how one can do so, and why it is worthwhile.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781582430553
Publisher:
Counterpoint Press
Publication date:
01/28/2000
Edition description:
1ST COUNTE
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,484,865
Product dimensions:
5.49(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.70(d)

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