This is Volume Five of the Penguin Proust, but actually includes two originally separate novels, called (not very surprisingly) The Prisoner and The Fugitive. But my March books list is already unfeasibly long, so I’ll list it here as a single entry.
The prisoner, overtly at least, is the narrator’s girlfriend Albertine, who moves in with him at the start of the book and (spoiler alert!) moves out at the end of The Prisoner, and then suddenly dies a few pages into The Fugitive. The translator says in her foreword that she thinks it entirely unrealistic to portray a young single upper-class woman cohabiting with a man she isn’t married to at the time period in question, even under the very secretive circumstances described in the novel (hence Albertine being described as a “prisoner”). I am not so sure. There was an awful lot going on under the radar screen in real life – indeed Proust is full of illicit and secretive love affairs, both gay and straight – and in a world where he thinks she is being sought after by every woman they meet, her secretly shacking up with him is not especially implausible.
There are some wobbly bits (again, the translator notes that Bergotte, a minor character, dies dramatically at one point but is being talked about as if still alive a few dozen pages later), but some great bits of description. That goes even more for the second part of the volume, The Fugitive, where the identity of the titular fugitive is much less immediately apparent, and the book starts off with loads of vicariously reported hot girl-on-girl action, and then spins out into a detailed and honest examination of the psychology of loss, with some very good sentences that almost qualify as one-liners. (But not quite. This is Proust, after all.)
Maybe I’m only now really getting into it, but it seemed to me that this was the most approachable volume yet of the five I’ve read, and I think I would actually recommend that someone wondering if Proust is for them should start here rather than with the first volume. It’s not as if the narrative is all that linear anyway. Having said that, those of you in the US will have to wait until 2018 to get this edition, or else get it shipped in from abroad.