Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - P is for Powell (squared) and Proust

There are a surprising amount of authors I like that begin with P. This is the only triple author post.

It is also the letter of very long books or romans fleuves as the French would say. Everyone knows about the madeline that starts the memories and the story. It's of course so much more than that. Meditations on time, writing, love, social morality, etc., etc. It set the novel format on its head and opened the way for modernism.

My favorite scene is in the last volume when M has been taken to a library to rest, as he looks through the books memories are sparked of what was happening in his life when read a particular book. There are certain books I have read that are inextricably linked to what was happening at the time. In Search of Lost Time reminds me of commuting from NJ to NYC during 2000/2001. I was about to start Time Regained when 9/11 happened. It took me quite awhile to pick it up again but it was actually a paragraph in Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour about his meal at French Laundry and the memories evoked that enabled me to pick it up again and finish the book.

Even the British have their Proust. Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time.  Despite being a roman fleuve with a long overarching story that examines the morality of the times it covers, it's quite the opposite of In Search of Lost Time in that the narrator isn't the principal character of the story. It's really Time that is the main character as see through the cast of characters that wander in and out of the novel.

I think I like multi-volume novels because I tend to read a volume and then read another book or two before proceeding to the next one. Sometimes interesting coincidences can happen. During this one I read The English Patient before starting Temporary Kings in both books the same story from Herodotus of Candaules, his wife and Gyges. It eventually led me to read Herodotus only to discover that this story happens within the first 100 pages or so leaving me dubious that either author has read all of Herodotus.

"A novel must be a rich forest known at the start only by instinct." - Dawn Powell

Of course if you're looking for something with less of a commitment or something to read between volumes of one of the above, there's Dawn Powell. She's relatively obscure but an author that grew up in Ohio and moved to New York. I'm always a little surprised after I read one of her books how early they were written. So much of them ring true even in the present day. She nails the experience of someone from the midwest moving to NYC and the unique viewpoint you get. If you were going to read just one novelist from my A to Z posts, I would like it to be this one.

This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Click through to see what other bloggers are doing like Armchair Squid where he's doing baseball's 2nd basemen for the alphabet.

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