I try not to do this much, but at the moment I’m working through two novels at the same time. It’s always interesting to do this, because the novels both distract from each other and add a wonderful facet to the reading experience.
“Swann’s Way,” thus far, is actually a very contained novel. I’m about a quarter of the way through, but I only have a firm understanding of two characters–and one I’m not sure about. Those two characters do not include the narrator, who has so far spent a lot of time reflecting on childhood. It has a lot of lovely sentences, but it wanders through time so much that it’s hard to get a grip on any one character. The only constant seems to be an undercurrent of class issues.
“To the Lighthouse,” in comparison, is far less contained. It’s all about intersecting characters and personalities, and in that way it’s a wonderful antidote to Proust’s lack of characters. It has moments of beauty, like Swann’s Way, but the moments are of a very different kind. The beauty in “To the Lighthouse” seems to stem from the human experience of one another. Beauty in “Swann’s Way” comes from within the mind of the narrator, and is about the experience of a single life.