Thursday, September 14, 2017

"Letters To His Neighbors" by Marcel Proust (Translated by Lydia Davis) New Directions Books

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2411-6 New Directions Books

I'm fascinated with a writer's residence.  Especially a writer like Marcel Proust, who lived in Paris, yet, couldn't stand outside noise.  He had lined up cork in his room to keep sounds out, but alas, where does one stop, when it becomes an obsession.  Ironically enough, or perhaps cruelty playing at fate, his upstairs neighbor was a dentist with his office right over his bedroom. Proust deal with this problem by addressing various correspondence to the upstairs neighbor's wife, Mme Williams.  Often sent with flowers, compliments, or books.  Proust, even at his wit's end, was a charmer.  Any other temperament, it could have been war.  Alas, it was more of a problem for the whole building to solve. The upside of this situation is that Proust and Mme Williams became close friends.  She made music in her and husband's apartment, and often Proust complimented the sounds above.  

"Letters to His Neighbor" is a very brief small book.  All the correspondence is from Proust, so you don't get Mme Williams commentary in the above narrative.  Still, and not surprisingly, the letters by Proust are written so beautifully.  One wonders if the world would be a better place on Social platforms like Facebook if writers of Proust's talents were on it?  The book is beautifully translated from the French to English by the great Lydia Davis.  Her afterword puts a focus on the relationship between the two neighbors but also comments on the Proust apartment which I found fascinating.  There is even a floor plan of Proust's apartment.  Also, we get what living inside Proust's headquarters was like.  According to Davis, the apartment was stuffed with his family's furniture, and it must have been like the world within a world. 

"Letters to His Neighbors" is slight, but its the devil in the details, and gives some light to "Swann's Way" as well to his other volumes of the same series.  Proust fanatics will want this, but again, it's the writer's lifestyle that I find of great interest.  As a guy who sits behind his computer, I can imagine what Proust had to go through for his work.  After all noise or quiet is a subjective view of the world. 

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