Friday, May 1, 2009

Comic version of Marcel Proust " remembrance"

Reading and studying difficult literary works, like James Joyce’s “Ulysses” or Pynchon’s “V” is often compared by readers to a supreme physical accomplishment, not unlike competing in a triathlon, diving to the dark abysses of the Ocean or climbing into the thin air of mountain peaks.

Indeed, these metaphors are inspired by the comparable efforts of patience and persistence, albeit in an intellectually sense, required to conquer the peaks of the canon of Modern Literature.

While these images are seldom extended to the importance of preparation necessary to succeed, the comparisons are also appropriate on that level.

We expect mountaineers and divers to use specialized equipment and protective clothing to reach their goals. It is obvious that a marathon runner needs to prepare and train himself and to follow a special diet to be able to reach the finish line after more than 42 km.

It is the same with reading. Preparation and experience are essential. We even need some tools: a good dictionary, a soft pencil, a Moleskine notebook and access to the web. We also need to free some time, weeks or even months and discipline ourselves to get ourselves through a +1000 pages behemoth.

Now imagine a reader without literary background, lured to literature in his quest for beauty. He wants to read Proust’s masterpiece. As a non academic reader, how do you tackle a summit like that? How do you prepare yourself, what tools are available, how can you train?

You’ll start with a biography, a good companion, an edition with an intelligent foreword, if possible a comment. You check the websites on the author or the subject. You will read extensively around the book, until you feel ready to take on the real thing. Not only will your understanding of the book improve, but this preparation will also enhance your reading pleasure.

This said, it is especially within this context of preparation, that the five albums of Heuet’s “ A la recherche du temps perdu” come as a blessing. The series caught my attention earlier, but it was only now that I was able to buy all the published albums at once.
Heuet’s work is an excellent illustrated summary of the 3 first parts of “A la recherche du temps perdu” : “Combray”, “Un amour de Swann” and “A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur”. In a typical “ligne Claire” style, he brings us the main topics of these works. Reading Heuet’s comic version helps to get an understanding in the many topics and to keep track of the many characters of the “Recherche” without losing the overview of this large work. But it goes without say that it was never meant as a replacement of Proust’s elegant prose.

It is therefore surprising that Mr. Herve Saint-Hilaire in the French newspaper “ Le Figaro” rants against Heuet and calls his work : “ prodigiously inane”, cruel, catastrophic, blasphemous and horrible. Saint-Hilaire speaks clearly here from a elitist and snobbish academic point of view. Rather than attack any initiative to bring the literary masters closer to a larger public, we should applaud and encourage it. To use our metaphor, we should motivate and encourage young or new readers to use these short cuts to the Himalaya.

As with me, the comic version will probably encourage you to go back to the beautiful lines of your Proust.

Thumbs up for Heuet and his version of Proust’s Magnus Opus !