The greatest novel of the 20th Century?

Those wanting to read a passage for the film can now apply via a form on Aubouy’s website on which she asks them to state why they wish to participate. The most common reasons people give are that they have never managed to begin Proust, and this will be a way to do so; they love it and want to pay tribute to it; or they simply want to be a part of such a huge project. But there are also more personal reasons, such as it being the favourite book of a beloved relative or that they read it 30 years ago on a boat with their lover. “Such motivations result in real love poems to Proust,” says Aubouy.

In an age of myths about reduced attention spans, the novel’s length could seem to be offputting, but that is perhaps another misconception. As Anne-Laure Sol, curator of the Musée Carnavalet in Paris, which houses a recreation of Proust’s bedroom points out: “The time spent reading Proust, compared to the time some of us may devote to watching the entire run of a TV series or scrutinising social media, is not that considerable, and it seems to me that the benefit is something else.” Like Aubouy, she also stresses the universal appeal of the novel. In reading it we can enter a world which allows us to “question the role of art, experience the joys and sufferings of love, of friendship and discover an extraordinary, and often comical gallery of portraits whose manias and characters are those of our contemporaries,” says Sol. 

Prendergast notes that it is a common reading experience to get through the first 50 or 60 pages of In Search of Lost Time and then just give up, the lengthy sentences and inconclusive narrative proving too much for many. But he believes perseverance is worthwhile. “I used to say to my students, ‘don’t do that, if you persist something will happen to you’. It’s the very thing that happened to me – you will become addicted. And that is indeed what happened to them.”

Those who do persist will encounter a novel which in the words of Shattuck “seeks to show us the springs of life – not in a work of art but in ourselves”. As such, the time spent reading it can never be wasted.

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