Proust therapy

January 25, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

GallienneRecently I had one of those days off where you pack do many things to do that you wish you had been in the office instead. At the end of the day, I felt stressed out and frazzled by the pace of the day. I needed something to calm me down, especially since I was going to the theatre that night and wanted to enjoy myself.

That’s where the book/CD of Ca peut pas faire de mal came to my rescue. Ca peut pas faire de mal (It can’t hurt) is a radio show on France Inter where Guillaume Gallienne reads excerpts of books and discusses a writer. It is a marvelous show and marketing people made a CD/book out of it. Lucky me, I got one for Christmas and it’s about Proust, Hugo and Madame de Lafayette.

I put the CD in the car and I forgot the stress of my day. Proust read by Gallienne makes you truly understand where all the fuss about Proust comes from. The passages recorded belong to different volumes of A la recherche du temps perdu and I remembered these scenes. This is Proust’s magic: hundreds of pages of literature and the characters stay with you, scenes are tattooed in your memory and emotions are lasting. Cocteau said about Proust:

Il y a des oeuvres courtes qui paraissent longues; la longueur de Proust me paraît courte. There are short works that seem long; Proust’s length seems short to me.

I share that feeling but I’ll say that some volumes are easier than others.

In his introduction to the show, Gallienne recalls:

Marcel Proust, I discovered him through my grand-mother. She told me “Proust, he’s one of the most irresistible things in the world” I said “Is he?” She said “Proust is hilarious” Ah! I expected anything but this definition and later on, Jean-Yves Tadié, Proust biographer told me “Oh! Discovering Proust thanks to your grand-mother, it’s a very good start.” So let’s laugh with Marcel!

He then starts reading several excerpts showing how Proust practices the whole rainbow of funny from sunny comedy to black humour and through irony, piques and erudite puns. One excerpt relates how the Baron the Charlus walks his bourgeois lover Morel through the intricacies of the aristocratic hierarchy. Hilarious. Another one brings to life Madame Verdurin and her clique. Proust describes her facial expressions, her verbal tics and her behaviour among her beloved followers. Gallienne reads the descriptions, plays the dialogues and turns a written portrait into a flesh and blood person.

There’s also the masterful scene in Le Côté de Guermantes when the duke and duchess de Guermantes reveal their true self. They’re self-centred to the point of rudeness and insensitivity. Within a few pages, with a simple situation and banal dialogues, the reader understands that not even family and friends dying would prevent the Guermantes to attend a party. They’re appalling, as I mentioned in this billet. Other passages are about Françoise (the servant), Marcel’s beloved grand-mother and homosexuality. The last one is a letter from the front written by the Narrator’s friend Robert de Saint-Loup. Gallienne says it prefigures Céline. He may be right.

In short passages, the CD gives you a taste of A la recherche du temps perdu. Gallienne reads with gourmandise. That’s a French word I have a hard time translating into English. Like plaisir. If I look up gourmandise in the dictionary, I come up with greed and gluttony which are negative words. They’re flaws or sins. True, in French gourmandise means gluttony as well. But not only. In a more figurative sense, it also means appetite in the most positive way. It goes with innocent pleasure, like in my son’s sentence En avant le plaisir! I never know how to express this in English.

So Gallienne reads Proust with gourmandise in a tone that suggests he’s having a treat, relishing in the turn of sentences, the delicious and old-fashioned subjonctif passé. He reads like a kid eats sweets, with abandonment and gusto. Words roll around his tongue, like he’s savouring a fancy meal or tasting a great wine. If you want to discover Proust, if you’re curious about how Proust sounds in French, then you need to hear Gallienne read these passages. You’ll want to read or reread Proust.

After this, Proust fest, I was calm. All the irritating moments of my day had faded away. I was available and ready to see The Village Bike by Penelope Skinner. That was my Proust therapy. The world would be a quieter place with more literature therapies. Perhaps it’s too ambitious but at least it benefited Penelope Skinner: I was ready to leave my day behind and enter the world she had created for us.

  1. January 25, 2015 at 1:59 am

    I have Trollope therapy which works for me.


    • January 25, 2015 at 10:44 am

      We should write a billet to ask around who’s their therapy writer.


      • January 26, 2015 at 2:48 am

        I think Trollope is also Tony’s therapy writer.


  2. January 25, 2015 at 2:39 am

    I wish we had an English version *sigh*


    • January 25, 2015 at 10:45 am

      There must be Proust in audio books, no?


  3. January 25, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Wonderful. I think Javier Marias has the potential to become my therapy writer – all those long, languid sentences…


    • January 25, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      I’ll read at least another Marias. The two ones I’ve read didn’t blow me away but he’s got a great style.
      Proust is fun. French-sense-of-humour fun.


  4. January 26, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Beautiful post, Emma! I wish I could listen to this CD. So glad that you discovered it and you loved it. I loved reading your thoughts on ‘gourmandise’. Maybe we can translate it as ‘an epicurean love for literature’ 🙂 I loved this sentence from your review – “He reads like a kid eats sweets, with abandonment and gusto.” I don’t have one particular author who helps in literary therapy, but I remember when I was reading Alexis Smith’s ‘Glaciers’, I was not in a good mood and the book calmed me and made me happy. That is a book I will read again, if I feel depressed.


    • January 29, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      I think you’re right Vishy, “epicurean love for literature” is probably a good translation.
      More than being a writer that cheers me up (because I don’t turn to Proust in that case) Proust is a writer who takes you in his world, so vividly described, that you’re just gone, leaving the stress of the day behind


      • January 30, 2015 at 11:30 am

        I loved what you said, Emma – how Proust takes you into his wonderful literary world and fully immerses you on it. I have only read a little bit of Proust and I am hoping to properly explore his works this year.


        • February 1, 2015 at 11:52 am

          You’ll see: it’s incredible how you remember the books, the characters years after reading them.


  5. January 27, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    France Inter radio shows and podcasts keep popping up in online articles and for some reason I never checked them out. It’s good that Ca Peut Pas Fair De Mal is available as a podcast to download, so I’ll definitely be checking it out. The idea of literature therapy is absolutely true: on downward days, I usually flip randomly through pages of books I haven’t read. It magically calms me down and I end up “meditating” for almost half an hour without noticing.


    • January 29, 2015 at 9:36 pm

      I follow two to four literature shows on France Inter:
      – Le masque et la plume
      – Les librairies francophones (a mix of libraires from Quebec, France, Belgium and Switzerland)
      – Ca peut pas faire de mal (the newest one, absolutely fantastic. You’ll love it)
      – Cosmopolitaine.

      I think books have this effect on us because they take your mind off things in the best way.


  6. February 6, 2015 at 9:16 am

    I hardly ever listen to the radio but I’m gld for suggestions. This sounds like a great show.
    Oh these days, when you’re actually off but it feels worse than working. Totally know what you mean. I’m glad you found a great way to relax in the end.


    • February 7, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      If you have a chance to catch Ca peut pas faire de mal, I really recommend it. (Saturdays, 6pm France Inter)


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