Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust

Proust's Overcoat:   The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust by Loreza Foschini (2010, 144 pages, translated  by Eric Karpeles)

It has been a long  time since I read Marcel Proust's (1871 to 1922) Remembrance of Things Past.    Not long ago I was sent a large number of books by a very kind reader from New Delhi.    Among them was Proust's Overcoat:   The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust by Lorenza Foschini.     I was not familiar with this book or its author but some quick research told me I might enjoy reading it and I did.

The author, Lorenza Foschini, was born in Naples and lives in Rome, Italy.   She is a radio and television correspondent specializing in coverage of the Vatican for RAI, a state owned media corporation.     She is an avid lover of Proust.

Proust's Overcoat is an odd, very interesting to me book.    It is not a book of deep literary analysis of the work of Proust.   It assumes you have at least some familiarity with Proust. 

The real subject of this book is Jacques Guerin.    Guerin was a wealthy Parisian whose family owned a perfume factory.    He was a devout biobliophile and collector of anything related to Proust.    He spent the week running his families perfume business and his weekends in the bookshops of Paris.    He assembled a fabulous collection of rare books.    His greatest literary passion was for Marcel  Proust.    By a happy accident,  Guerin sought medical care from Proust's brother, a doctor.   He met the sister in law of Proust through this.   His sister in law had always been embarrassed by the fact that Proust was gay (as was Guerin-Genet lived in his house for as while when he got out of prison) and intended to destroy any letters and papers that made any references to this part of Proust's life.    Guerin became involved in saving these and other papers from the fireplace.    

By the most generous of standards, Proust was eccentric.    He had an overcoat that he loved.    He wore it everywhere all the time.   At night or when he was in bed (which seems to have been at least half the time-he wrote in bed) he kept the coat over him.    It was clearly his "security blanket".    A good of space is devoted to Proust's relationship to this coat and Guerin's efforts to secure it for his collection.

Proust's Overcoat is about Proust, the mania for collection, perfume factories, old Paris bookstores and being gay in Paris.   There are some interesting things said in passing about his writings but the book is really about the mania for collecting and how the love of an author can change or even dominant lives.    

Proust's Overcoat is  a quirky look at a very nearly fey world.   It is a world of affluence, privilege and high culture.    There are a lot of intelligent and interesting observations in this book.     The more you are into Proust, the more you will enjoy this book.    I thing it might motivate some to read him for the first time.  (I am thinking about rereading him in 2012. )

This is a short book (the print is large and there are lots of interesting photographs).    You can read it in just a few hours.    I enjoyed this book and am grateful for the opportunity to read it for free.    

My recommendation is unless you are simply wild for Proust do not spend the money for a full prize purchase of this book.   If you can read a library copy or perhaps buy a used copy then it is worth reading for those with some interest in the subjects it covers.   It is enjoyable and funny and wise and about the love of Proust.      

Mel u


Suzanne said...

I can't say that I loved reading Proust but it definitely was an experience.
This book is on my to-read pile and it sounds quite interesting.

Thanks for the review.

Suko said...

I read Proust many years ago, in college. I think I'd enjoy a lighter take on him--excellent review!

Mel u said...

Suzzane-thanks for your comment and I hope you enjoy this book

Suko-I hope you also will enjoy this book, should you decide to read it

karen! said...

I have to say, this sounds fascinating. I'm probably more interested in the collecting mania than in Proust.

I was actually thinking about Proust earlier today. I was listening to an interview on the radio and the interviewer referenced Proust's madeleine. Said madeleine does pop up fairly often and I couldn't help but wonder how many people bother reading 'Remembrance of Things' Past anymore.

Mel u said...

Karen-the book really is more about the mania for collecting than about Proust-I hope you get the opportunity to read it-thanks for your comment