Surreal is the best word I can think of to describe Swann’s Way. The book has this dreamlike quality; at times while reading, I didn’t know if I was awake or asleep. As I read the final section, I found myself wondering why Swann was the object of Marcel’s fascination. Is it accurate to say that Marcel was obsessed with Swann to the same degree that Swann was infatuated with Odette? Would Swann’s Way have been just as effective had it not contained a novel within a novel? These questions stand out the most as I try to wrestle with what this book really means.
Originally, I said that Marcel had more in common with his Aunt Leonie than he did Swann; Swann was merely an idol that Marcel looked up to. However, it would appear that there is a connection between Marcel and Swann that is more involved than what the reader first experiences. As a reader first delves into Swann’s Way he/she is struck by the story of the Madeleine and Aunt Leonie and by the language that Marcel uses in his reminiscences. The people that Marcel talks about the most are those that are closest to him, he interacts with these people, even if it is on some basic level. Swann seems to be part of the backdrop. Why would Marcel take such interest in a man who trespasses against his time with his mother?
Keeping in mind that the story of Swann in Love came to Marcel came to Marcel through some other means signifies that Swann plays a larger role in the scheme of things. In other words, Marcel did not include the story of Swann and Odette’s love affair because it struck a chord; he found a man that he can relate to on a deeper level.
Just as the story of Marcel’s first taste of the Madeleine is a memory, so is the story of Swann in love. There seems to be a connection between involuntary memory and love. It is the theme that is played out the most throughout the book. Just as the cookie is Marcel’s catalyst for remember, Odette seems to be the prop that propels Swann to realize his own self deception. And yet, I sit here trying to wake from the dreamlike quality of the book and I wonder how Marcel was deceived. Did the real world not match up to the fantasy world that Marcel created? Did Marcel have greater hopes for a man like Swann? At the beginning of the book, one could certainly say that Marcel was deceived by the taste of the Madeleine, but there has to be more to Marcel’s deception than what revolves around a cookie.
This book has been difficult for me to read because I cannot seem to make sense out of all my disconnected thoughts. Have I succeeded in answering any of my questions? No, I have only managed to raise more. Personally, I was frustrated with Swann’s Way because there was not a character that I could readily relate to. And yet, I am intrigued by the book as a whole. The novel inside a novel is fascinating to me. One thing is certain, this novel is very thought provoking. I realize I have not managed to say anything profound as I wrestle with the meaning of the book, but I am trying.