On Not Reading Proust
A couple of weeks ago I drove north to Redcar to put flowers on my father’s grave, the first time since my mother died last year. My father died when I was nine and my family moved away when I was twenty-three. I’ve only been back a handful of times since and I think that is why my memories are so very vivid. They haven’t been overlaid by more recent ones. So when I drove through Saltburn I could almost see myself sitting on the sofa with Joy, my best friend, at her house watching the moon landings almost 40 years to the day, could almost hear Stevie Wonder singing ‘My Cherie Amour,’ the soundtrack for that seemingly endless summer.
I drove round by our old house in Redcar and sat looking at it for a while. It’s a cliché I know, but it really did look smaller than I remembered. The stained glass in the front door that used to throw jewelled light onto the hall floor and stairs had gone. And in thinking of that I remembered that the stairs used to be one of my favourite places for reading.
And what years those were for books, my mid teens to my early twenties. I had a summer job some years, but still there seemed to be endless days, hours and hours, for reading, and my appetite for serious literature was endless. I did an English degree so I was meant to be reading anyway – PARADISE LOST was set as the task for the first Christmas vacation – but I read a lot on top of the set books. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, WAR AND PEACE (read mostly in the bath, believe it or not), ANNA KARENINA. I didn’t read Proust, but maybe that was the wrong age. I was in my thirties when I read the first third, and was bowled over by SWANN IN LOVE. I think I appreciated it more than I would have done when I was younger. Now my life has the wrong rhythm for Proust. I wouldn’t be able to take a run at it. Maybe one day I’ll give myself a sabbatical in France and read the rest.
And talking of sabbaticals, I’m taking a little break now. But I’ll be back in mid-August, so don’t go away.