Marcel Proust’s brother said the problem with In Search of Lost Time was that people “have to be very ill or have a broken leg” in order to read it. Or, he might add today, be confined to their homes in response to a global pandemic. In the early days of the coronavirus lockdown my Twitter feed was full of conversations about whether it was time to read Middlemarch or The Brothers Karamazov, Bleak House or The Anatomy of Melancholy. Whether because of furloughing or just not being able to go to the pub, the general assumption among readers was that there would be a lot of free time to catch up on the big ones that had until now, like Ahab’s white whale, got away.
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