Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

"Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen" by Kate Taylor (Vintage, 2004)

Sarah, born 1929, was evacuated from Paris to Canada in 1942. She was fostered by Sam and Rachael. In 1951 she returned to Paris to confirm that her Jewish parents had died. In 1956 back in Canada she married Dan Segal, son of Lionel and Clara. In 1966 they had Max, loved in vain by Marie, who goes to Paris to read the original journals of Proust's mother.

One can piece together this chronology from dates and interval-lengths mentioned in the text - the tales are told largely in parallel, dominated by extracts from the journals. Why would Marie (who's not an academic) make such an obsessive trip to Paris? True, she'd read Proust at school and beyond, but that doesn't explain it. Not until much later does she say that she went to see when or whether Mme Proust realised what her son's tendencies were, but I'm not convinced. Marie traces a link from Max to Marcel to Mme Proust to Sarah, but again I can't buy the emotional investment put into the Proust connection. If there was more contact between Marie and Sarah it would make more sense.

There are cross-overs between the stories - Marcel has an english-speaking friend called Marie who goes to Canada; the medical profession; glass and crockery are broken - and there are repeated themes: Jewishness, childlessness, and Mothers worrying about their son's marriages. The later Sarah bores me - too obsessed with food (but Mme Proust's no slouch herself in that regard). The scene where she smashes up her kitchen seems over-symbolic to me.

I think appreciation of the book is easier if you know Proust and like reading Journals - the extensive journal entries are made up, but sound convincing. The general reader will like the writing even so - "There is a place along a riverbank, a few urban streets quickly giving way to small country houses with gardens opening onto the towpath. Men fish, my parents walk ahead of me along the river. Have I visited this place or dreamt it? Was it the destination of a weekend outing or has my imagination given three-dimensional life to a scene painting by Serat or Monet that I must have seen in a museum?" (p.56). That extract shouldn't lead you to think that the book's "Proustian" though - Marie doesn't seem to be recovering anything, with her it's more reconsiliation.

At the end the narrator looks forward to writing this book, finding salvation in the shape of literature much as Marcel did, I suppose, and maybe like Mme Proust too. Sarah's not into the Arts, we're told.

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