Home Sweet Home -Patrice Louis’s Proustian Homestead, Combray
A whole world.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His house is devoted to Marcel Proust, his most beloved writer.
One evening The Delhi Walla enters the home of author Patrice Louis in Combray. This French town is of great significance in Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time, and it boasts of four hair-dressers, four bakeries, one rather ordinary bookstore, and the Marcel Proust Museum that is visited by Proustians from across the world.
The other place in Combray that resonates with Proust is Mr Louis’s book-lined residence on Rue Ronsard. Mr Louis runs a blog on Proust titled Le fou de Proust, which literally means The Proust Mad Man. Indeed, he seems to be a little mad–the day I meet him, his forehead is stamped with the seal of Marcel Proust Museum (see picture 1 below), and he often reads Proust even over his meal (see picture 9).
Yet, there is more to this house than this Proustian and his Proust. Mr Louis and his collection of Proust paraphlenia (from Proust tea cups to Proust notepads) are obliged to share it with wife Violette Ovide, a saxophone player, dog Biki, cat Puceron and hen La Poule, who gives an egg everyday. The husband and wife have a quaint relationship–unlike most other French couples, they address each other in the respectful ‘vous’ instead of the informal ‘tu’.
One entire bookrack in Mr Louis’s drawing room is dedicated to works by Proust and on Proust, and he himself is all about Proust. No matter the topic of the conversation, he always finds a way to touch upon Proust’s novel. No wonder then that he appears to be familiar with all the Proust-related aspects of Combray. Anybody might imagine him to be connected to this town for generations.
The truth is that he moved to Combray only three years ago. Earlier, he was living in Africa when he picked up Proust for the first time, in March 2011, after retiring as a journalist. He read all the seven volumes in three months. Since then he has read the novel nine more times. A native of Paris’s fashionable 7th arrondissement, Mr Louis moved back to France from Africa in 2013, which was, incidentally, the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Swann’s Way, the first volume of Proust’s novel.
Mr Louis has intimate bonds with other writers, too. He grew up with writers around him. His parents were friends with René Char, and he later befriended the great poet Aimé Césaire and wrote several books on him. Proust was the third literary figure to enter intensely into his life.
Mr Louis’s wife, Violette, has not read much of Proust. Even so, she has soft feelings for a place as sleepy as Combray. “The thing that I like the most about Combray is that it is not far from Paris,” she says, with no hint of malice towards her husband’s lover.
Mad for Proust