Later and after a search through more than one bookstore, actually having in ones hands all of the requisite volumes, used though they be and cobbled together in editions and translations from different publishers as a complete text, one pauses again knowing it has become something that has to be dealt with not necessarily immediately, but in just the right way, because the whole thing may be too heavy to carry around for any longer than necessary, in whatever way it’s looked at.
But that’s not why one pauses, is it? No, and it’s not even because the novel's languid pace has become either infectious or on the other hand, lulled one to sleep. After the reader has turned enough pages through the ensuing volumes he or she becomes comfortable enough with Proust's ‘fictional’ characters they have followed from the first as well as those they've met since continuing, that they don’t want to see them disappear once the bottom of the final page is reached. It’s natural, other epics have had this effect and this one joins them, taking one back in time to special memories that either still touch one sentimentally or haunt a person in some other almost subconscious way. And the reader may decide that Proust was to some degree been toying with his audience as well, with his sentence structure and style merely because he enjoyed entertaining them in a way distinctly, artistically and in a fashion different from the usual fare of the day.
Gustave Flaubert is one author who inspired Proust, but to me this story is more reminiscent of some of Emile Zola's raunchier efforts, albeit far more subtle and far, far longer. In both, the Paris portrayed is bursting with a ‘colourful’ or ‘questionable’ morality that shows the broad range of behavior making up the metropolis where the elite played and the where the Moulin Rouge - in it's time - must have fit right in, simply one facet of some grand kaleidoscopic gem.
Admittedly, the tale is not for any without the patience or the time to enjoy it. And it’s certainly not for those without a modicum of tolerance for the sexual proclivities exhibited by some characters after reaching Part Four: Sodom and Gomorrah or Cities of the Plain, as it’s more politely titled in some editions. A general atmosphere of decadence pervades the work, which for a few there degenerates into a thinly veiled depravity that by the final installments seems to parallel the descent of the ‘Gilded Age’ into the madness of the first world war as it proceeds and which finally grinds to a halt, leaving the narrator’s social circle aged, as well as decimated along with everything else in the 'new' world he sees. But as he remembers it all and looks back he sees that there still with all the artistic and flowery (though more faded and jaded) horticultural references, scattered as if for contrast through those latter memories, remained the only one: the so called 'madeleine moment', that almost insignificant instance from the past that stood out, compared to the rest and seemed like it had happened perhaps only the day before.
It all ends with neither a bang nor a whimper, but simply, with the narrator of the tale having found, from all he’d seen and remembered, the brushstrokes necessary to apply to his own canvas, he finally begins to contemplate - it is implied - that actual work which the reader is just finishing. I too, after more words, time and effort than usually spent now put down this rambling blog that you, the current readers, have just now perused to see this piece as sketched as well.