The rest of Sodom and Gomorrah, after the long middle section, carries on swimmingly: it’s that usual Proustian mix of beautiful observed detail plus funny observed society-life plus jealousy and falling in and out of love and acting more or less foolish about it. There is much about sleep and time and memory and habit: a pleasing passage about how, when you’re very tired and fall asleep later than usual, or without your usual evening routine, there can be this moment of oblivion upon waking, a dissolution of the self, a very particular forgetfulness, in which we forget not what is learned but what is experienced.

I like the bits about place and distance and how a landscape fits together or changes as we perceive it. When the narrator hires a car to take him and Albertine around the countryside, he talks about all the little towns as “prisoners hitherto as hermetically confined in the cells of distinct days as long ago were Méséglise and Guermantes, upon which the same eyes could not gaze in the course of a single afternoon, delivered now by the giant with the seven-league boots, clustered around our teatime with their towers and steeples and their old gardens which the neighboring wood sprang back to reveal” (538). I love this, and I love the newness of the automobile, new enough that the narrator describes it going up a hill “effortlessly, with a continuous sound like that of a knife being ground” (ibid.). Later, after drives around the countryside, the narrator begins to piece together places he’d previously thought of as isolated, because he only visited them with certain people or from certain directions; he contrasts travel by car and travel by train, concluding that travel by car “gives us the impression of discovering, of pinpointing for ourselves as with a compass” the place to which we travel (550). Wonderful, too, is the passage where the narrator sees an airplane for the first time: he’s out riding on horseback while Albertine paints; he’s been thinking of breaking up with her for some time, but hasn’t; he’s vaguely discontented with things, and then there’s this flight right in front of him, making him see possibility again: “I felt that there lay open before him—before me, had not habit made me a prisoner—all the routes in space, in life itself” (582).

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