Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Art of the Novella #4: Proust Pastiche. . .



You don't have to be familiar with all the writers that Proust is imitating in this entertaining pastiche in order to enjoy reading this novella. Another way to view this story is as a exercise in the art of examining (or explicitly avoiding doing so) one basic story from many different, creative angles. The simple framework concerns a man named Lemoine who, claiming to be able to manufacture diamonds from coal, swindles a large amount of money, is caught and subsequently put on trial. Proust pays homage to (or skewers) writers including Balzac, Flaubert, Saint-Simon (who I now have no interest in reading) and the Goncourt brothers. My favourite chapter was the "critique" following Flaubert's account, in the voice of Sainte-Beuve. It was extremely funny. Many of Proust's own literary preoccupations are present, particularly the meticulous and exhausting detail paid to the endless rankings of aristocratic society and the artifice of that empty world. He also has a bit of gleeful, immature fun in his chapter devoted to Henri de R├ęgnier, where, rather poetically, the discharge from a runny nose momentarily becomes an apt symbol of Lemoine's diamond scam.

So that makes four novellas read out of the nine I am aiming for this month. The final five will be the "Duel" books by Chekhov, Conrad, Casanova, von Kleist and Kuprin. We'll see which duellist is left standing.

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