Remembrance of Things Past is one of the monuments of 20th century literature. Neville Jason’s widely praised abridged version has rightly become an audiobook landmark and now, upon numerous requests, he is recording the whole work unabridged which, when complete, will run for some 140 hours. Within a Budding Grove is the second of seven volumes. The young narrator, experiencing his youthful sexuality, falls under the spell of a group of adolescent girls, succumbs to the charms of the enchanting Gilberte, and visits a brothel where he meets Rachel. His impressions of life are also stimulated by the painter, Elstir, and his encounter with another girl, Albertine. PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
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I can’t get enough of Proust, and thanks to this monumental feat of audio recording, I don’t have to. What makes him so wonderful is his wonderful sense of humour and acute sense for human psychology. Not psychology in some sort of distant, academic sense, but pragmatic, observational and projective, where he not only sees things around him and is able to analyze through them the human condition, but also the marvellous clear-sightedness where he’s able to write about “himself” (inasmuch as we want to see the narrator as the author, something this work effortlessly embraces) as the object of critique. His irony, sometimes near-impenetrable, encloses whole conversations, that only afterwards one realizes have been written down in jest.
The second part in the series, “Within a Budding Grove”, (again, this is Moncrieff’s title, the correct translation of the French “À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs” rather being “In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower” – as a sidenote, it’s good to know since the theme is played upon in the book) is slightly more difficult to appreciate than the sublime first volume, “Swann’s Way”.
I say “more difficult to appreciate”, which one may interpret as a coward’s way of saying “bad”, simply because while it’s a brilliant work, Proustian all the way through, it’s a step down from the wonders of the first volume, and for that matter, from the following volume. The first part, “Around Mrs Swann” ("Autour de Mme Swann"), is wonderful, but I can’t relate much to the Balbec episode, that is, "Place Names: The Place" ("Noms de pays: Le pays"). Perhaps it’s because we already have the archetype of Albertine in Mrs Swann that much of it feels rather rehearsed.
Neville Jason continues to amaze. Someone somewhere (vague enough for you?) described Jason’s ability to make Proust’s often quite complex sentences clear with his articulation and pace. He’s such a joy to listen to, and I’m completely sold on the prospect of listening to his “War and Peace” whenever I finish “Time Regained”.