Marie Prevost is a contemporary Canadian who sets off for Paris to research Proust and escape a failed romance.
Sarah Bensimon is a young Parisian Jew who marries into an orthodox family and takes refuge in her kitchen, recreating a kosher version of classic French cuisine.
The third woman is madame Jeanne Proust herself, fragments of whose 'diaries' are recreated with impeccably researched detail - as she worries about Marcel, his late-night habits, his diet and his unsuitable friends.
All these strands are brought poignantly together - the new world and the old, the Seine and the St Lawrence, mothers and sons, outsiders and insiders - in this intelligent and beautifully judged debut novel.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 480 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 04/03/2004
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780099441984
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Review by wandering_star
This book tells the story of three women: we read the diaries of Marcel Proust's mother in the late nineteenth century, and hear the thoughts of two French-Canadian women in the mid- and late twentieth. I really enjoyed this book to start with - the diaries are crisp and the prose is very well-written, with themes of memory - and smell, of course, along the lines of Proust's famous madeleines. However, after about halfway, I realised that the stories of the two modern women were not really going anywhere. It became apparent that they were linked by one man, Max - son to one and close friend to the other - with many echoes of Proust's relations with his mother and a close female friend. And as the many things which their stories could have been about narrowed down to this, I wondered whether it was really enough to hang a story around - Max is visible to the reader only in small glimpses and he doesn't seem a strong enough character to be worth all the emotional commitment that the women put in.