The reader is Neville Jason who Washington Post called “the marathon man” after his 70 hour recording of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Jason is well equipped to read this even longer work by Proust, having received the Sir John Gielgud prize for fiction while he was at RADA and having then gone on to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Old Vic Company. Indeed, while reading an earlier abridged version of Proust he did the abrigement himself and also translated the final volume (see article in Audiofile magazine).
The first volume alone, Swann’s Way (amazon link here) is over 23 hours on 17 CDs – – six more volumes are to be added to the project and will eventually run for 140 hours and will be completed in October of this year.
I have had a rather mixed relationship with Proust’s great work. I’ve read three volumes of it so far, but as I began about fifteen years ago perhaps that’s not very good going. While the book is fascinating, if it takes me a long time to get into each one and I know that by spreading it out over such a long period I lose some of the connections across each volume and have forgotten how the characters relate to each other. The books are hugely detailed (as you would expect with their huge size) and it can be a daunting task to start another one.
With this background I was wondering how I would cope with Swann’s Way on an audio recording. I was pleasantly surprise to find myself totally absorbed, particularly while driving. Jason’s voice is exactly right for Proust – as a professionally trained actor, his intonation and tone is perfect for the rhythmic cadences of the Scott Moncrieff translation. My own version of Proust is the newer Penguin edition which uses different translators for each volume. The translation is flatter and more colloquial, whereas Scott Moncrieff’s sounds slightly more “classical” – which Neville Jason’s voice suits rather well.
Of course, you have to wonder how exactly you would get through 140 hours of audio recording. It almost seems like a life’s work – something that would accompany you over many years as you dipped in and out of it and kept coming back to it. If I was still at the stage of my life where I was driving up and down motorways it would be ideal, but for now it’s going to be an occasional treat over the next few years. What a lovely thing to own though, a rich resource for some point in the future when I have more time on my hands.
By the way, should you wish to read along with the audio version, the text of Proust’s work in the Scott Moncrieff translation is available for free download in various ebook formats on Project Gutenburg here.
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