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the Complete Review
the complete review - self-help

How Proust can change your Life

Alain de Botton

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To purchase How Proust can change your Life

Title: How Proust can change your Life
Author: Alain de Botton
Genre: Self-help
Written: 1997
Length: 197 pages
Availability: How Proust can change your Life - US
How Proust can change your Life - UK
How Proust can change your Life - Canada
Comment Proust peut changer votre vie - France
Wie Proust Ihr Leben verändern kann - Deutschland
  • Not a Novel

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Our Assessment:

A- : clever and witty take on Proust (and literature), well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A 12/4/1997 John Weightman
FAZ . 1/12/1998 .
The Guardian C 17/4/1997 John Sturrock
New Statesman B- 27/6/1997 Fred Inglis
The New Yorker . 2/6/1997 John Updike
The NY Times A 22/5/1997 C. Lehmann-Haupt
The NY Times Book Rev. A 15/6/1997 Frank Gannon
Salon . 5/5/1997 David Futrelle
San Francisco Chronicle . 22/6/1997 Peter Theroux
The Spectator B- 19/4/1997 Teresa Waugh
Time A 2/6/1997 Julie K.L. Dam
TLS . 25/4/1997 Graham Robb
The Village Voice A 3/6/1997 Richard Klein
World Lit. Today C Fall/1998 Leslie Schenk

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus. An alarming number of critics take things a mite too seriously, discussing how reasonable de Botton's thesis is and whether Proust can actually change your life (opinions being split on that question as well). The "Proustians" (with a few exceptions) seem particularly offended by de Botton's doings (despite what John Weightman thinks -- see below). Others find it immensely clever.

  From the Reviews:
  • "This engaging book, which combines whimsical humour with sharp intelligence, is one of the most entertaining pieces of literary criticism I have read in a long while. It cannot fail to please Proustians, who will recognise that Mr de Botton knows his subject inside out, and it will be of particular help to those would-be readers of In Search of Lost Time, who have got sadly entangled in the psychological thickets of the sprawling masterpiece." - John Weightman, Daily Telegraph

  • "Both (Proust's) novel and (Proust) are more profoundly troubling and ambiguous sources of human understanding than you would guess from skimming across the surface of them in the undemanding company of Alain de Botton." - John Sturrock, The Guardian

  • "De Botton's readiness for sentiment is a heartening thing. His advocacy of sincerity, his determination to write of love and friendship, are alive, strong and upright, and Proust is an excellent occasion for raising these subjects. But all of them (including Proust) are harder and more intransigent than he allows; harder perhaps than he knows." - Fred Inglis, New Statesman

  • "By characterizing In Search of Lost Time with amusing superficiality, (de Botton) has succeeded in showing us some of the novel's greatest depths." - Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times

  • "How Proust Can Change Your Life is witty, funny and tonic -- and it provides ample justification for all the college courses that make Proust required reading. Mr. de Botton reminds us that A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, like all great literature, isn't just a means of garnering academic credits or an esthetic height to be scaled. It's good medicine: it can cure what ails us -- but only if we stick with the nine-step program." - Frank Gannon, The New York Times Book Review

  • "The hybrid result is a funny and very refreshing moral and artistic primer based on the lessons learned by Marcel, the hero of Proust's epic work." - Peter Theroux, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "This reviewer was, unfortunately, intensely irritated by many aspects of de Botton's thesis, finding it superficial, often contrived and at times patronising." - Teresa Waugh, The Spectator

  • "(A)n irresistible madeleine of a volume that ought to be devoured in one sitting." - Julie K.L. Dam, Time

  • "Ultimately, How Proust Can Change Your Life suggests that the pleasure of Proust lies not so much in discovery as in recognition, and even that all these moral niceties are simply pretexts for those wonderful, serpentine sentences. (...) De Botton's causerie is an object-lesson in ridding oneself of an obsession with Proust. In effect, a proustectomy." - Graham Robb, Times Literary Supplement

  • "You don't need to have read Proust in order to read this book; in fact, once you've read de Botton you don't need to read it at all or ever again. Writing with great clarity, concision, and wit, de Botton translates the Proustian message into humbler but energetic prose unencumbered with footnotes or the slightest whiff of academic critical paraphernalia." - Richard Klein, The Village Voice

  • "(A)n amiable ramble through snippets of bright sayings by Marcel Proust accompanied by considerably lengthier and less bright sayings by Alain de Botton." - Leslie Schenk, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       After several works of fiction, all with notable essayistic digressions, Alain de Botton offers what he emphatically subtitles Not a Novel. It is, in fact, in many respects written in a similar vein as his previous novels -- though the essayistic (i.e. the commentary) is here less burdened with story than in those. How Proust can change your Life is, among other things, a self-help book (the title can be taken quite literally), a biographical work on Proust, a guide to In Search of Lost Time (a.k.a. Remembrance of Things Past) and an essay on reading and literature generally.
       Divided into nine chapters offering advice "How to ..." de Botton shows how Proust (and specifically a reading of his masterpiece) can be a useful guide to life. "How to suffer successfully" and "How to put Books down" may not seem among the most pressing pieces of knowledge for the modern age, but de Botton makes a charming case for such knowledge.
       Proust's father, Dr. Adrien Proust, published a number of self-help books, including the useful Elements of Hygiene, from which de Botton includes a number of illustrations. Marcel went about things differently (very differently, in almost all respects), but he too can be seen as offering guidance throughout his works as to how to live. He may seem an unlikely candidate, given his unusual lifestyle. Sedentary in the extreme, Proust seems particularly far removed from ordinary life, even during his lifetime. But, as de Botton shows, there is still something to learn from him.
       A pleasant mix of literary criticism and analysis, biographical speculation, social commentary, written with de Botton's usual wit and forthcoming style, How Proust can change your Life is eminently enjoyable. It shouldn't be taken too seriously; it is certainly a great deal of fun.

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How Proust can change your Life: Reviews: Alain de Botton: Other books by Alain de Botton under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author Alain de Botton was born in Switzerland in 1969 and educated at Cambridge.

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