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Second paragraph of third chapter of La Prisonnière (NB my translation has no chapters):
Nous étions arrivés devant la porte. Je descendis de voiture pour donner au cocher l’adresse de Brichot. Du trottoir je voyais la fenêtre de la chambre d’Albertine, cette fenêtre, autrefois toujours noire, le soir, quand elle n’habitait pas la maison, que la lumière électrique de l’intérieur, segmentée par les pleins des volets, striait de haut en bas de barres d’or parallèles. Ce grimoire magique, autant il était clair pour moi et dessinait devant mon esprit calme des images précises, toutes proches et en possession desquelles j’allais entrer tout à l’heure, autant il était invisible pour Brichot resté dans la voiture, presque aveugle, et autant il eût, d’ailleurs, été incompréhensible pour lui, même voyant, puisque, comme les amis qui venaient me voir avant le dîner quand Albertine était rentrée de promenade, le professeur ignorait qu’une jeune fille toute à moi m’attendait dans une chambre voisine de la mienne. La voiture partit. Je restai un instant seul sur le trottoir. Certes, ces lumineuses rayures que j’apercevais d’en bas et qui à un autre eussent semblé toutes superficielles, je leur donnais une consistance, une plénitude, une solidité extrêmes, à cause de toute la signification que je mettais derrière elles, en un trésor insoupçonné des autres que j’avais caché là et dont émanaient ces rayons horizontaux, trésor si l’on veut, mais trésor en échange duquel j’avais aliéné la liberté, la solitude, la pensée. Si Albertine n’avait pas été là-haut, et même si je n’avais voulu qu’avoir du plaisir, j’aurais été le demander à des femmes inconnues, dont j’eusse essayé de pénétrer la vie, à Venise peut-être, à tout le moins dans quelque coin de Paris nocturne. Mais maintenant, ce qu’il me fallait faire quand venait pour moi l’heure des caresses, ce n’était pas partir en voyage, ce n’était même plus sortir, c’était rentrer. Et rentrer non pas pour se trouver seul, et, après avoir quitté les autres qui vous fournissaient du dehors l’aliment de votre pensée, se trouver au moins forcé de la chercher en soi-même, mais, au contraire, moins seul que quand j’étais chez les Verdurin, reçu que j’allais être par la personne en qui j’abdiquais, en qui je remettais le plus complètement la mienne, sans que j’eusse un instant le loisir de penser à moi, ni même la peine, puisqu’elle serait auprès de moi, de penser à elle. De sorte qu’en levant une dernière fois mes yeux du dehors vers la fenêtre de la chambre dans laquelle je serais tout à l’heure, il me sembla voir le lumineux grillage qui allait se refermer sur moi et dont j’avais forgé moi-même, pour une servitude éternelle, les inflexibles barreaux d’or. We had arrived at my door. I got out of the carriage to give the coachman Brichot's address. From the pavement I could see the window of Albertine's bedroom, that window which had always been dark in the evening when she did not yet live in the house, and which the electric light from the inside, sectioned by the slats of the shutters, now striped with parallel golden bars. This magic spell-book was as clear to me, presenting to my untroubled mind precise images, close at hand, of whose reality I was shortly to resume possession, as it was obscure to the half-blind Brichot, still seated in the carriage; it would, in any case, have been incomprehensible to him, since the professor was no more aware than were those friends who came to see me before dinner, when Albertine had just got home from her outing, that I had a young girl waiting just for me in a bedroom close to mine. The carriage moved off. I stood for a moment alone on the pavement. Certainly, the luminous stripes I could see from below, which would have seemed insignificant to anyone else, had for me a consistency, a plenitude, an extreme solidity which came from the meaning with which I endowed them, from the treasure, if you like, a treasure unsuspected by others, which I had hidden there and from which these horizontal rays emanated: a treasure, however, for which I had given my freedom, my solitude, my thoughts. If Albertine had not been up there, or even if I had been concerned only for pleasure, I could have gone and found it with unknown women, in Venice perhaps, or at least in some unknown corner of night-time Paris. But now what I had to do when the time for caresses was at hand, was not to embark on a journey, nor even to leave the house, but to go back there. And not to go home at least to find solitude, not, after leaving the others who provided from outside the matter for one's thoughts, to be forced to find it in oneself, but on the contrary, to be less alone than I had been at the Verdurins', since I was returning to the person to whom I surrendered my personality, handing it over completely to her, without having a moment to think of myself, nor any need to think of her, since she would always be beside me. So that lifting my eyes for the last time to the window of the room where I should shortly be, I seemed to see the cage of light that would presently close upon me, and of which I myself, for my eternal enslavement, had forged the golden bars.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Albertine Disparue (NB my translation merges this with the next paragraph from the original French):
Et pour aller chercher maman qui avait quitté la fenêtre, j’avais bien en laissant la chaleur du plein air cette sensation de fraîcheur, jadis éprouvée à Combray quand je montais dans ma chambre ; mais à Venise c’était un courant d’air marin qui l’entretenait, non plus dans un petit escalier de bois aux marches rapprochées mais sur les nobles surfaces de degrés de marbre, éclaboussées à tout moment d’un éclair de soleil glauque, et qui à l’utile leçon de Chardin, reçue autrefois, ajoutaient celle de Véronèse. Et puisque à Venise ce sont des œuvres d’art, des choses magnifiques, qui sont chargées de nous donner les impressions familières de la vie, c’est esquiver le caractère de cette ville, sous prétexte que la Venise de certains peintres est froidement esthétique dans sa partie la plus célèbre, qu’en représenter seulement (exceptons les superbes études de Maxime Dethomas) les aspects misérables, là où ce qui fait sa splendeur s’efface, et pour rendre Venise plus intime et plus vraie lui donner de la ressemblance avec Aubervilliers. Ce fut le tort de très grands artistes, par une réaction bien naturelle contre la Venise factice des mauvais peintres, de s’être attachés uniquement à la Venise, qu’ils trouvèrent plus réaliste, des humbles campi, des petits rii abandonnés. C’était elle que j’explorais souvent l’après-midi, si je ne sortais pas avec ma mère. J’y trouvais plus facilement, en effet, de ces femmes du peuple, les allumettières, les enfileuses de perles, les travailleuses du verre ou de la dentelle, les petites ouvrières aux grands châles noirs à franges. Ma gondole suivait les petits canaux ; comme la main mystérieuse d’un génie qui m’aurait conduit dans les détours de cette ville d’Orient, ils semblaient, au fur et à mesure que j’avançais, me pratiquer un chemin creusé en plein cœur d’un quartier qu’ils divisaient en écartant à peine d’un mince sillon arbitrairement tracé les hautes maisons aux petites fenêtres mauresques ; et, comme si le guide magique avait tenu une bougie entre ses doigts et m’eût éclairé au passage, ils faisaient briller devant eux un rayon de soleil à qui ils frayaient sa route. Then as I went to meet Mama, who had left the window, I felt the same sense of coolness on leaving the midday heat that I had experienced at Combray when I went up to my bedroom; but in Venice it was wafted by a sea breeze, and not up a small, narrow wooden staircase but up the noble surfaces of marble steps, constantly splashed with flashes of glaucous sunlight, adding the lesson of Veronese to the useful lesson of Chardin, which I had learned on a previous occasion. And since in Venice it is works of art and magnificent monuments that are entrusted with conveying the impressions of everyday life, it would distort the nature of the city, if, on the pretext that the most famous examples of the Venice of certain painters are coldly aesthetic (except for some superb studies by Maxime Dethomasl, we were to represent only its impoverished aspects, at the points where its habitual splendour fades, and if, in trying to make Venice more familiar and true, we were to make it look like Aubervilliers. Reacting quite naturally to the artificial Venice produced by bad painters, we could reproach the greatest artists with studying only the Venice that they found more realistic, with its humble campi and deserted side canals. This was the Venice that I explored in the afternoons, if I did not go out with my mother. For this was where I found it easier to meet women of the people, match-sellers and bead-stringers, glass- or lace-workers, young working-girls whose long black, fringed shawls were no barrier to my love, since I had nearly forgotten Albertine, yet some were more attractive than others, for I did still remember her a little. I wonder if anyone could have told me exactly how far, in this passionate perusal of Venetian women, what was due to them, and what to Albertine, or my former desire to travel to Venice. Our slightest desire, although striking its own, unique chord, contains within it the fundamental notes on which our whole lives are based. And if perchance we suppressed one or other of these notes, even unheard, even unconscious, a note bearing absolutely no relation to the object of our pursuit, we would none the less feel our whole desire for this object fade away. There was much that I did not attempt to elucidate in the midst of my excited pursuit of Venetian girls. My gondola followed the side canals, as if the mysterious hand of a genie were guiding me through the byways of this oriental city, the more I advanced along the canals the more they seemed to show me the way, slicing through a neighbourhood that they divided, as their narrow and arbitrarily traced furrows barely perturbed the tall houses and their small Moorish windows; and like a magical guide holding a candle between his fingers to light my passage, they cast ahead of them a ray of sunlight and opened a pathway for it.

When I first read this in 2008, I wrote:
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.
On this reading, I found the book/books much tougher going than I did first time round. In particular, the narrator's behaviour is pretty creepy. His treatment of Albertine in the first book is borderline coercive; he doesn't especially even like her, but at the same time he is jealous of her other friendships and relationships. He simply exploits unnamed women in the second book (including getting summoned to the police to account for his interactions with an underaged girl; since he is a gentleman, he is let off without even a slap on the wrist). However, the portrayal of the psychology of obsession in the first book, grief and loss in the second, and jealousy in both is very well observed, and if you can distance the author from the narrator maybe it's a bit more enjoyable. You can get it here.

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