Although reading Proust is certainly akin to escaping into another world, it is also a unique experience; he is truly like no other author I have ever read. When he wrote his 3000-page masterpiece, A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), it was a novel that publishers absolutely did not understand: it was "so different from what the public is used to reading," as one of them noted. Another sniped, "I don't see why a man should take thirty pages to describe how he turns over in bed before he goes to sleep," thereby demonstrating that he just didn't understand what Proust was doing. (I almost said "attempting to do," but Proust succeeded wonderfully.)
In most novels descriptions are there to support the plot. In Proust it is the reverse. Any plot, such as it is, is only a device upon which Proust can hang his marvelous descriptions: of a place, of a feeling, of a person. In order to read Proust you must savor the descriptions. You've got to take that thirty-page account of rolling over in bed (a slight -- but only slight -- exaggeration) and immerse yourself in it until you feel the sheet, the temperature of the room, you hear the voices in the garden below, see the light coming in beneath the door. That's what Proust IS. There is no shoot-'em-up, car chase, whodunnit plot (there ARE plots -- they are just insignificant when compared with the atmosphere Proust creates). Instead of action, Proust is spinning a world for you -- or for himself -- and is inviting you to experience it with him.
My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice. I have read it three times. This is either my fourth or fifth time to read Swann's Way, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time. I loved it the first time I read it, but that's not why I've gone over it so many times. I am DETERMINED to read the whole 3000-plus-page work and have in my head that I need to read it straight through. I don't know whether or not this is true, but it's in my head and I can't get it out, so there you go. I have started it multiple times and -- understandably -- gotten distracted by something and stopped reading it. (I think I have read the second volume, Within a Budding Grove, twice; I've not gotten through volume three, The Guermantes Way.)
So this will be the time, I am sure. (I have said this before.)
Something unexpected has happened during this reading. Proust is not exactly a difficult read -- not exactly -- but he does require attention. He is known for long (very long) and meandering sentences and it is easy to forget what the point is when you are two-thirds of the way through. This time, though, I am kind of sailing along. I have even laughed out loud a couple of times, which I've never done before. It's like I finally speak his language, so it is possible for me to pay more attention to what he says than how he says it. Or maybe vice versa.
I don't think I would recommend Proust to anyone; I think I would just tell them to read this and decide for themselves. He is not for everyone -- not for the impatient, certainly. And not for the plot-driven. Obviously, I have not even read half of this work, so it is kind of strange that I'm writing about it the way I am. But Swann's Way is not a short little novella; the version I have weighs in at 468 pages; Within a Budding Grove is a 784-page doorstop. (Versions -- more precisely translations -- is a whole 'nother topic of discussion.)
For me -- well, I am hooked. Reading Proust is like reading a meditation. He is the most "in the moment" writer I've stumbled across. He is my "Calgon take me away" author.