Marcel Proust has been malingering on my Shelf of Constant Reproach for quite some time-ever since I first started to try to read Lydia Davis' acclaimed translation of Swann's Way. So, since Proust fit neatly into my Paris: The Luminous Years reading challenge, I thought I would try to tempt myself back to Swann's Way with a little light reading about the author himself.
Unfortunately, I was somewhat underwhelmed with my choice. Proust at the Majestic is a bit of a misnomer, I think, for a book where Proust's appearance at a party at Paris' Hotel Majestic plays such a tiny part. The first & next-to-last chapters make a nice framing device for the book: Chapter 1 introduces the party at the Majestic, which was attended not only by Proust but also by Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce, & Diaghilev; while Chapter 8 introduces us to Sydney & Violet Schiff, the hosts of the infamous party, & their relationship with the author. Other than those chapters, the party was only mentioned once or twice. I didn't understand the significance of the party to the book.
The rest of the book meandered a bit, trying to decide if it was a biography of Proust or literary criticism, & featuring long tangents into the lives of other celebrities of the era. It seemed to be well-researched & had a lot of interesting information-it just lacked focus. Perhaps the author was trying to set a scene, but it was just too dense & a little too dry. I did learn a lot about Proust, the role of homosexuality in his life & work, his illness (he "renounced his life, & forfeited his creative spirit, in order to fulfil his vocation"), his interest in all the social classes ("he ardently, sincerely found transcendant profundity in people & things that were generally dismissed as mundane"). It was just not a compelling read for me.
Maybe Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb, in which Proust plays a part, will manage to tempt me back to Swann's Way. But for now, it's back to the Shelf of Constant Reproach.