Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
Original effort that is both insightful and entertaining
on June 26, 2003
First, while I really love this little book, it doesn't quite deliver on the title. Not that the title isn't accurate. Very few fiction writers can actually change one's life, but Proust is one of a very few that can (reading him has very definitely changed mine), but I'm not quite sure that de Botton gets at the reasons why. At least, he didn't get to the specific reasons that Proust has had that effect on my life.
Nonetheless, this remains an amazingly good introduction to Proust, and is a marvelous first-book for anyone contemplating reading Proust's masterpiece. Proust is, of course, the author of what is very widely considered to be the great work of literature of the past century and what is increasingly considered one of the great masterpieces in the history of literature: IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. de Botton's volume isn't precisely an introduction to Proust so much as a series of reflections on themes that can be illustrated by aspects of Proust's life or by passages in his great novel. Many of these are marvelous at assisting even a veteran reader of Proust to gain new insights into his book.
Is the book worthwhile for someone who does not plan on reading Proust but just wants to read an enjoyable book? Certainly. de Botton is unfailingly witty, almost always interesting, and frequently insightful. None of this relies either upon having read Proust or intending to. The book can certainly stand on its own. Reading this book is fun and easy; reading Proust can be fun at times, but it is also challenging and demanding frequently. But that may be why de Botton's book is unable to show how Proust truly can change your life. Proust has a way of sucking you deep into his book, making you so much a part of it that you feel almost that it is you and not the narrator from whom all these feelings and emotions arise. You almost become a part of the novel, and your life can change because Proust can create a story that becomes a mirror to your own life, instilling a sense of the things we ought to have done but didn't, but providing the revelation that it isn't too late. Proust can also show how all the failures of the past can become the material for future success and accomplishment. de Botton hints at some of this, and even quotes some key passages that in the context of the novel most eloquently display this (cf. the Elstir speech on p. 67, which I believe displays the central theme of the entire novel better than any other passage in Proust).
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone wishing either a fun read or a light-hearted intro to Proust. But even more I recommend reading Proust. Only in doing that can one actually discover how Proust can change one's life.