Saturday, 15 May 2010

How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

The lovely Alain de Botton has done it again: he’s taken a huge multidimensional subject that scholars spend years dissecting and digesting (and casual readers shy away from) and pared it down into a handy 200-odd page volume that is delightful to read and makes for much more easily digestible food-for-thought.

How Proust Can Change Your Life is a pretty self-explanatory title, but I’m a fan of unnecessary elaboration and want to share with you some of the chapter titles, such as How To Be A Good Friend (including lessons on listening), How To Take Your Time (featuring a foray into Pascal’s Pensées), How To Express Your Emotions (giving your loved ones nicknames like plouplou & le flagorneur [the toady] is a good start) and my personal favourite, How To Suffer Successfully. If we follow his train of thought, de Botton compares so many common, modern modes of behaviour to those of early 20th century French characters it is really quite astonishing – and even made me wonder about the nature of human behaviour and how much (or little) it is affected by generational differences. De Botton clearly knows his stuff; his understanding not only of Proust’s work but of his personality, lifestyle and personal relationships resounds clearly throughout the book, giving it a much broader feel than simply a narrow exploration of In Search of Lost Time. He uses humour & irony so subtly but with such aptitude that it really creeps up on you – de Botton has a real gift; he is able to trick you into learning something and enjoying it, which if you ask me is the only real way to learn. (This coming from a girl with no tertiary education to speak of, who still believes herself an intelligent & valid person!)

Above all else this sweet little book provides a fantastic introduction to a man my impatient 21st century mind might have otherwise overlooked. De Botton emphasises that while Proust was no flawless genius or impeccable literary mastermind, he was sensitive, deeply intelligent and had a weighty understanding of what it means to be human – all traits that make him a worthy read even today.


john said...

I really enjoyed your review of this book. I'm going to get it immediately!
Found your site from Andrew Sullivan links...
You're probably going to hear this quite a bit, but you are spectacular!


john said...
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Evie said...

Thanks John!
Who is Andrew Sullivan? I must thank him for sending me another reader. :)