I just finished The Fugitive, and it was good, and I am glad to be done with it. The “Sojourn in Venice” section was of course really pleasing, water and light and history and beauty and art, a brief boring digression on politics/diplomacy aside. There’s a surprise telegram (with an added twist) that makes our narrator realize he’s finally over Albertine; there’s the satisfaction of the narrator finally getting to go to Venice after dreaming about it for years; there’s the stupidity of the tantrum he throws on the day he and his mother leave.

But mostly I liked the descriptions: there’s a sentence about “The Patriarch of Grado exorcising a demoniac” that made me go look it up—Proust writes of “the marvellous rose-pink and violet sky” of the painting, “the tall encrusted chimneys silhouetted against it, their flared stacks, blossoming like red tulips” (876). And there’s this whole great passage, too:

After dinner, I went out alone, into the heart of the enchanted city where I found myself in the middle of strange purlieus like a character in the Arabian Nights. It was very seldom that, in the course of my wanderings, I did not come across some strange and spacious piazza of which no guidebook, no tourist had ever told me. I had plunged into a network of little alleys, or calli. In the evening, with their high bell-mouthed chimneys on which the sun throws the brightest pinks, the clearest reds, it is a whole garden blossoming above the houses, its shades so various that you would have said it was the garden of some tulip lover of Delft or Haarlem, planted on top of the town. Moreover, the extreme proximity of the houses made of every casement a frame from which a day-dreaming cook gazed out, or in which a seated girl was having her hair combed by an old woman whose face in the dark looked like a witch’s—made of each humble quiet house, so close because of the narrowness of the calli, a display of a hundred Dutch paintings placed side by side. (881)

After all this, the last section of the book (“New Aspect of Robert de Saint-Loup”) struck me as less pleasing: marriages and news of the social world and the realization that Saint-Loup has more in common with his uncle, after all, than what one might have thought. Not that it was boring, but it wasn’t Venice.

Also, as I mentioned when I finished The Captive: I am ready for a literary change of scenery. I first picked up The Captive & The Fugitive back at the end of September, though I put it down in favor of a whole string of library books that I either just had to put on hold because they were new and exciting (Al Capone Shines My Shoes, The Magicians, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma) or that I stumbled across in the new books section or by word of mouth and wanted to read (The Coral Thief, Bird Eating Bird).

I started reading The Captive & The Fugitive again in earnest in late December, and have been reading it ever since, all 957 pages of it (including the notes, addenda, and synopsis, because yes, I read them), with occasional breaks to read the New Yorker (though at present I’m two issues behind—shhh, don’t tell!). I have enjoyed being immersed in the world of this book, in Paris and the changing light and the changing weather and the street-noises and the love and sorrow. But now? Now I want to read something short and sweet. Top contenders at the moment are mostly kids’ books: The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs, or The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald, or The Light Princess by George MacDonald, or Summer Term at St. Clare’s by Enid Blyton—all of which are paperbacks that I found on the sidewalk in my neighborhood (oh Park Slope literary castaways, I love you so!).

(All page numbers in the Proustian portion of this post are from the Modern Library paperback edition of The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust, translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright)

5 Responses to “Finishing The Fugitive, and taking a break from Proust”

  1. Stephen Isabirye Says:

    I am glad you mentioned Enid Blyton’s Summer Term At St. Clares. In fact, I mention and discuss the book in my book on Enid Blyton, titled, The Famous Five: A personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com).
    Stehen Isabirye

  2. Heather Says:

    Internet etiquette 101: leaving comments that seem meant solely to promote your book/product/shop/restaurant/whatever is not the best form. Stephen, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt rather than just marking it as spam, but only grudgingly. Tell me more about Summer Term at St Clare’s: if I’m choosing among these four kids’ books, why should I push this one to the top of my to-be-read pile?

    I read book blogs and write this one because I like to find out what other people are reading, and I like to have conversations about books. Self-promotion isn’t a conversation. I understand that you want to get the news about your book out there, but I’m not sure you’re going about it in the best way. Talk to people about what you’re passionate about and then, if it’s relevant to the conversation, include the pitch as a side note. In your comment, the pitch is all that’s there.

  3. Danya Says:

    Well said, Heather.

    I recently read Rumer Godden’s The Dark Horse, and short and a-little-bitter-sweet it is. I love her writing; she’s one of the few authors (Kenneth Grahame being another rarity) who seem to authentically tap into the minds of children. (The Dark Horse is not about children as such, but I’ll read anything she writes and the horsey theme was a bonus.) The River and The Greengage Summer are favourites of mine by Godden.

    I’m not familiar with any of the authors you mention other than Blyton – you’ll let us know which one you decided on, and why, won’t you?

  4. Heather Says:

    Danya, thanks. I ended up choosing another kids’ book entirely — Montmorency and the Assassins by Eleanor Updale. I’m partway through it right now and it’s ok, not great. It’s historical fiction/adventure, set in Italy/London/Scotland (and eventually, I think, America) in 1898, and I’m liking the historical aspects of it but the author’s writing style is not quite doing it for me. (I think the “Sojourn in Venice” section in Proust put me in the mood for Italy, and I’m *always* up for books set in London.)

    Re: the other books I was considering, which I’m sure I’ll get to eventually — The House with a Clock in Its Walls might just come next. It’s a suspense/horror sort of story about a kid who moves in to his uncle’s big old mansion and makes some surprising discoveries. I read this one as a child and remember liking it but don’t actually remember much about it.

    The Great Brain is one I never read. It’s first in a series that was published in the late ’60s through the ’70s, and I remember seeing the paperbacks at the library when I was a kid, but I never read any, possibly in part because I wasn’t really excited by books with male protagonists. I think this book is set in the late 1800s in Utah but that’s all I know about it. We shall see.

    The Light Princess is a fairy tale but also apparently has Christian themes, which I didn’t realize when I picked it up. I’m hoping it ends up charming rather than preachy. MacDonald was a Scottish author/minister who lived in the 1800s; I’d heard of The Princess and the Goblin, another of his books, but I don’t think I ever read it.

    I think the only Rumer Godden book I’ve read was The Rocking Horse Secret, when I was a child, and I remember that I liked it, but I’ve never read anything by her as an adult. I’ve heard a few people online mention The Greengage Summer lately — perhaps I’ll have to check it out!

  5. Danya Says:

    Great, thanks for these summaries. I’ve noted the titles and authors and at some point will investigate them.

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