So, I once had a boyfriend who insisted that if you don't like the first ten minutes of a film, then the film is rubbish and you needn't bother with the rest of it. I saw the first ten minutes of many movies while this gentleman and I were together, movies that may have gotten better. I thought of this while I was reading pages 50-100 of Swann's Way. As I've mentioned before, this is my third time attempting to read this book. I imagine that part of the reason why I put it down the previous two times and didn't pick it back up included my just not being all that interested. I'm happy to say something that you probably already know: books are not movies. They can get better.
The narrator really starts getting into the narration of his childhood in these fifty pages. The narrative swims back to him, starting with a description of his Aunt who never leaves her rooms, hardly eats anything and never sleeps (so she says). She has to remind herself that she has not slept, and she catches herself to avoid saying things like, "what woke me," and "I dreamed that." I loved this observation about the Aunt because I often find the difference between what has happened and how we remember it in order for the happening to fit into how we see ourselves as being interesting.
Part of his Aunt's life, upstairs in her rooms, is devoted to watching people as they go by on the street from the window and hearing the gossip about everyone from her maid Francoise and her few visitors. She watches from the window with such regularity that she knows every dog and every face that passes the window. When she doesn't watch, she sends Francoise to the grocer to buy some salt or something they must be running low on so that she'll have a reason to go investigate and bring back the news.
In these 50 pages, we are introduced to the narrator's literary tendencies. He talks at length about the different authors he discovered during his time in Combray and how the books effected him. He tells us that if he were allowed to visit a place that was described in a book he was reading, that he felt like he was being allowed to take a step forward on the conquest of truth. I had to laugh at this because my travel plans (and my list of places I would one day like to see) are often heavily influenced by things I've read. I still get a thrill stepping into the Metropolitan Museum of Art and wondering where I could hide from the guards, and I read From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler more than two decades ago.
But my favorite part of these 50 pages was the narrator's friend Bloch. Every know-it-all hipster has this even-more-of-a-know-it-all hipster friend. The one who tells your father that they are beyond physical contingencies and that their body doesn't even notify them anymore about minor inconveniences like pouring rain. The one who claims they'll never be caught dead with something as insipidly bourgeois as a watch. This friend made me laugh.
I have to say I've laughed a lot, reading these first hundred pages, and this has me pleasantly surprised. I was expecting that every page of this book would be dripping with details and ever so serious. And it is. But, sometimes, all the ever so serious details paint a picture that is amusing.