Monday, June 13, 2011

Proust's Overcoat by Lorenza Foschini

Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust
By Lorenza Foschini
Copyright 2009
Ecco - Nonfiction
144 pages

Prominent Parisian Jacques Guerin headed his family's perfume company, but his true passion was collecting literary treasures. One of his favorite authors was Marcel Proust; and, when Guerin became a patient of Proust's brother, Robert, he sought to know Dr. Proust better, eventually finding out that the doctor owned many of his brother Marcel's possessions, including manuscripts, furniture and the coat Proust was known to seldom remove, even in bed.

A bit of an opportunist, Guerin hoped to eventually obtain some of the author's possessions. Proust's Overcoat tells the story of how a wealthy businessman came to collect not only the coat and some manuscripts, but many other items that belonged to Proust and how, after wheedling and finagling to obtain them, he kept his treasures out of other hands.

Proust's Overcoat is an elegant little snack of a book. I read it in a few hours, one evening, and enjoyed it very much. It has a mysterious feel as the author tells about Guerin's sneaky ability to get people to sell things to him. Since Proust was gay and so was the treasure-hunting perfumer, there's a lot of talk about homosexuality. It's been nearly two weeks since I read the book, but I'm pretty sure the objective of mentioning the various characters' sexual orientation was to describe how they were shunned or even removed from certain society and that led, in particular, to enmity between Proust and his sister-in-law, who burned valuable documents before realizing they had any monetary worth.

The bottom line: A marvelous, engrossing true tale about a treasure hunter and how he came to own many items belonging to Proust and other worthies of the literary world, well-written and very entertaining. Recommended.

Cover thoughts: I love the cover showing the eccentric author surrounded by (and wearing) his possessions. I think it's rather charming.

Side effects: Naturally, now I'm dying to read some Proust. I have never read anything at all by the author, although I've pondered his master work and been put off by the sheer size of it. Houses could be built out of copies of In Search for Lost Time. Incidentally, I had no idea the original title, Remembrance of Things Past, had been changed to In Search of Lost Time until I read Proust's Overcoat.

In other news: I just realized I haven't even bothered to work on editing my photos of Charleston, lately, which convinced me I should dash off to see if I could find anything worth playing with and I came up with this photo, which was taken next to one of the waterfront fountains:

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  1. I've attempted In Search of Time Lost, but was unable to get very far. However, this book sounds intriguing. If I can't read Proust, I can read about him, his family, his era. :)

  2. Jenclair,

    I flipped through In Search of Lost Time when it was still Remembrance of Things Past and thought there was no way I'd ever finish. If you haven't succeeded, I think that just serves to confirm I wouldn't. Yes, might as well enjoy reading about him. You will learn a little about Proust from Proust's Overcoat. It's an interesting little read. I enjoyed it.

  3. I loved this book, and although I do think Proust's work is just a bit too intimidating for me, I got really caught up in this book about his lost possessions. I am glad that in the end they decided to giver most of them to a museum as well. Proust certainlyber had a hard life, didn't he?

  4. Zibilee,

    I got pretty caught up in it, too. I love a quick read like that, one that you can totally immerse yourself in for a few hours. Yes, I was happy that some things did eventually go to a museum. It sounded like Guerin was really tight-fisted about his treasures till the end of his life, but it was nice to know he finally decided to start sharing and/or selling them, toward the end.

    Yes, poor Proust was a miserable wretch. I haven't been able to find any info about what made him so sick, yet, but I didn't look too far.

  5. Zibilee,

    I just used better key words and discovered Proust was an asthmatic. Interesting, but it doesn't explain why he was always freezing. I wonder if he was also anemic from not eating well in his latter years.

  6. I've had my eye on this one for a long time and sort of waffle back and forth about it. Glad it went so well for you! That gives me a little push. And I love the cover -- that doesn't hurt. :)

  7. Andi,

    It's a fun little book. Isn't that cover great?

  8. I haven't gotten very far into Proust, but this book about him looks wonderful. I love to read about people's obsessive sides. I love the picture with the flowers and the shoe.

    Your spambot says: "reade" Yes, Ma'am!

  9. Bybee,

    Well, then, you will probably love Proust's Overcoat if you like reading about obsession.

    Thank you! I thought it was really interesting to find that someone had plopped down a jeweled shoe and wrapped flowers by the fountain. It looks so very posed, doesn't it?

    Yes, you'd better obey the spam catcher and go "reade". LOL

  10. I have some of Proust's books but I've never read them. I'm picking up Alain de Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life from the library tonight though. I now have to see if they have Proust's Overcoat too.


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