Proust Sightings in Z. Smith, J. Wood, K. Ishiguro

These passages aren’t taken from “random readings,” since I’m teaching Smith, Wood, and Ishiguro this summer, but I did get a small measure of delight seeing Proust crop up in all three (of course, he is something of an easy reference whenever death or memory or social mannerisms and habits require a little bit of allusive literary situating… but still, Proust).

Zadie Smith:

Irie stepped out into streets she’d known her whole life, along a route she’d walked a million times over. If someone asked her just then what memory was, what the purest definition of memory was, she would say this: the street you were on when you first jumped in a pile of dead leaves. She was walking it right now. With every fresh crunch came the memory of previous crunches. She was permeated by familiar smells: wet woodchip and gravel around the base of the tree, newly laid turd underneath the cover of soggy leaves. She was moved by these sensations. Despite opting for a life of dentistry, she had not yet lost all of the poetry in her soul, that is, she could still have the odd Proustian moment, note layers upon layers, though she often experienced them in periodontal terms. She got a twinge—as happens with a sensitive tooth, or in a “phantom tooth, when the nerve is exposed [. . .]. She felt an ache (like a severe malocclusion, the pressure of one tooth upon another) when she passed the park where they had cycled as children, where they smoked their first joint, where he had kissed her once in the middle of a storm. (White Teeth 378-79, bold added)

James Wood:

Proust implies that such irrelevance [as one sees in Balzac, Tolstoy, and Mann] will always attend our deaths, because we are never prepared for them; we never think of our death as likely to occur “this very afternoon.” Instead:

One insists on one’s daily outing so that in a month’s time one will have had the necessary ration of fresh air; one has hesitated over which coat to take, which cabman to call; one is in the cab, the whole day lies before one, short because one must be back home early, as a friend is coming to see one; one hopes that it will be as fine again tomorrow; and one has no suspicion that death, which has been advancing within one on another plane, has chosen precisely this particular day to make its appearance, in a few minutes’ time, more or less at the moment when the carriage reaches the Champs-Elysées. (How Fiction Works, pg. 60, bold added)

Kazuo Ishiguro:

There was, incidentally something I noticed about these veteran couples at the Cottages—something Ruth, for all her close sutdy of them, failed to spot—and this was how so many of their mannerisms were copied from the television. It first came to me watching this couple, Susie and Greg—probably the oldest students at the Cottages and generally thought to be “in charge” of the place. There was this particular thing Susie did whenever Greg set off on one of his speeches about Proust or whoever: she’d smile at the rest of us, roll her eyes, and mouth very emphatically, but only just audibly: “Gawd help us.” Television as Hailsham had been pretty restricted, and at the Cottages too . . . But there was an old set in the farmhouse . . . and I’d watch every now and then. That’s how I realised that this “Gawd help us” stuff came from an American series, one of those with an audience laughing along at everything anyone said or did. (Never Let Me Go, pg. 120-21, bold added)

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