Sunday, December 5, 2010

Review: Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini

"You can't take it with you." How many times have I heard that? Yet despite this maxim, people are frequently still judged by their possessions. Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than when viewing the possessions of famous people. When you go for a tour of a famous author's home, doesn't it feel a bit like a cheat if the furnishings are only representative of the period and not original to the author? Somehow, knowing that your favorite author sat at this desk or wore that dress makes viewing these artifacts that much more exhilerating. And to know that the manuscript laid out under glass is original? Priceless. So what if you had the opportunity and the money to collect your favorite author's belongings? Would you?

Jacques Guerin was the head of his family's very successful perfume business when he fell ill and was attended by the late Marcel Proust's brother, Dr. Robert Proust. While perfume was Guerin's business, rare books and author possessions were what fired his imagination and drove him in his obsessive collecting. His acquaintance with Dr. Proust and subsequently to an antiques dealer who also knew the Prousts enabled him to amass much of the collection he prized so dearly. Woven through the tale of Guerin's thorough and careful hunt for Proustiana, is a brief but instructive history of Proust's relationship with his unfaithful brother and bitter sister-in-law to whom Proust's homosexuality was a terrible and appalling embarrassment. The history works seamlessly with the story of Guerin's collecting and author Foschini's literary detective work to uncover both of these aforementioned stories. The book is slight but engaging and there's no need for the reader to be more than passingly familiar with Proust. I have never read his works and yet the story of Guerin's quest to save Proust's belongings from the flames to which his brother's widow would have consigned them was fascinating as was the short history of Proust himself. While this hasn't necessarily convinced me to search out Proust's Remembrance of Things Past with so many other books still on my plate, I definitely have to admit to more curiousity than before.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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