Title: Proust's Overcoat: The True Story of One Man's Passion for All Things Proust
Author: Lorenza Foschini
Source: Publisher for review
Summary (From Amazon):
Jacques GuÉrin was a prominent businessman at the head of his family's successful perfume company, but his real passion was for rare books and literary manuscripts. From the time he was a young man, he frequented the antiquarian bookshops of Paris in search of lost, forgotten treasures. The ultimate prize? Anything from the hands of Marcel Proust.
GuÉrin identified with Proust more deeply than with any other writer, and when illness brought him by chance under the care of Marcel's brother, Dr. Robert Proust, he saw it as a remarkable opportunity. Shamed by Marcel's extravagant writings, embarrassed by his homosexuality, and offended by his disregard for bourgeois respectability, his family had begun to deliberately destroy and sell their inheritance of his notebooks, letters, manuscripts, furni-ture, and personal effects. Horrified by the destruction, and consumed with desire, GuÉrin ingratiated himself with Marcel's heirs, placating them with cash and kindness in exchange for the writer's priceless, rare material remains. After years of relentless persuasion, GuÉrin was at last rewarded with a highly personal prize, one he had never dreamed of possessing, a relic he treasured to the end of his long life: Proust's overcoat.
Proust's Overcoat introduces a cast of intriguing and unforgettable characters, each inspired and tormented by Marcel, his writing, and his orphaned objects. Together they reveal a curious and compelling tale of lost and found, of common things and uncommon desires.
My Two Cents:
I don't read a whole lot of non-fiction, so my expectations for this spare book were pretty low. I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book read like a novel instead of a piece of non-fiction. It moved at a quick pace (Of course, at 120 pages, it's hard not to move quickly) and kept me interested.
Foschini does a great job of painting Jacques Guerin, who you could theoretically call her main character. Sure, he was a real person, but his obsession with Proust and his quest to collect pieces of the author's life. I found Guerin a fascinating person, and could see the source of his eccentricities.
My main problem with this book, however, is that there was so much emphasis placed on Guerin's collection of things such as Proust's manuscripts and his bed that there was very little time left for his overcoat, the title object. Foschini's entire introduction is dedicated to her viewing of the coat, yet the coat only really comes into play for about 20 pages of the book. I would have liked to hear a lot more about the coat, if possible, and think it would have added to this book.
If you like non-fiction about authors and their legacies, or you like reading about people who collect things, you may want to check out this book.