In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way by Stéphane Heuet/Marcel Proust

I don’t have time to read this now,  but I have seen a copy and it looks fantastic
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Rachel Cooke  @msrachelcooke  Monday 15 February 2016

What will British readers make of it? Having never read Proust – there, I’ve said it now – I can’t be sure what his fans will think. However, in an illuminating introduction to his translation, Goldhammer suggests that those who know and love the novel are likely to regard Heuet’s adaptation as “a piano reduction of an orchestral score”; he writes convincingly of the way the ruthless compression of the comic strip form sheds a “revealing light on the book’s armature, on the columns, pillars, and arches that support the narrator’s resurrected memories as the columns of the church in Combray support the stained glass and tapestries that transport visitors into the past they represent”. As for those who, like me, don’t know the novel, this strikes me as a good and gentle place to start. Sumptuous, elegant and beautifully paced, it is completely absorbing. Will it send me to the real thing? Maybe, one day. But whatever happens, this volume is a work of art in its own right. I’ll be forever glad to have spent so much time bent over it.

swanns way graphic novel
A page from Swann’s Way: ‘This volume is a work of art in its own right.’ Photograph: Stéphane Heuet/Éditions Delcourt, 2013/Gallic Books

The graphic Swann’s Way is divided, like the original, into three parts. The first is an evocation of Combray, the village where the narrator, an aspiring writer, grew up (“For a long time I went to bed early…”); the second tells the story of the aristocratic Charles Swann and Odette, the woman with whom he is tormentedly infatuated; the third deals with the narrator’s idealised boyhood love for Swann’s daughter, Gilberte. This version, however, also comes with a map of Paris, an illustrated Proust family tree and, courtesy of Goldhammer, a detailed glossary (the entry for the madeleine includes its entire history). Heuet, who uses aligne claire style and clearly owes a debt to Hergé, is a brilliantly consistent artist, and the emotional concision of his strips is a pleasing counterpoint to Proust’s winding, abstract prose. However lovely, these are illustrations generic enough to allow readers both to conjure their own images, and to concentrate on the text – a narrative which, though here trimmed as neatly as Charles Swann’s beard, ultimately gives this remarkable book its intense flavour, if not all of its beauty.

In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way is published by Gallic Books (£19.99). 

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