Books: A New 'Past'

Near the beginning of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past," there is the famous scene in which the narrator inhales the aroma of a madeleine, a shell-shaped pastry, dipped in tea. It is a smell not encountered since childhood, and it unlocks the treasure house of his memory. Everything that follows, all 3,000 pages of the saga, stems from this scene. Or so we've been told--we've made it only through the first 150 pages of Proust's masterpiece, although we've gotten that far at least three times. If only we had waited for Stephane Heuet. The French advertising illustrator has completed two volumes in a projected 16-volume illustrated version of Proust. "Illustrated"--as in comic books. Though it was widely condemned by French critics ("Marcel is being murdered!" said Le Figaro), Heuet's first volume quickly sold more than 50,000 copies. Maybe U.S. audiences, schooled on comic art like Art Spiegelman's "Maus" and Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan," will be more accepting, now that the books are being published here by NBM Publishing. This Proust looks like the Classics Illustrated comics of our midcentury youth. Those initial encounters with Dumas, Dickens, Melville came flooding back the moment we looked at Heuet's pictures. Comic books as our tea and madeleine--there's the American version for you.