102 Boulevard Haussmann, an elegant address in Paris’s eighth arrondissement. Upstairs lives Madame Williams with her second husband, an American dentist, and her harp. Downstairs lives Marcel Proust, feverishly trying to write In Search of Lost Time, but all too often distracted by the incessant noise from the apartment above him – the footsteps and banging and unbearable moving of boxes and crates.
Written by Proust to Madame Williams between the years 1909 and 1919, this little cache of letters was discovered a few years ago in the archives of a Paris museum. In them we read of the comings and goings of a Paris building; of the effort required to live peacefully with annoying neighbours; of the sadness of losing friends in the war; of concerts and music and writing; of illness; and – above all – of a growing, touching friendship between two lonely souls.
‘If you have suffered from noisy neighbours, you will sympathize with Marcel Proust’ Times Literary Supplement
‘A haunting portrait of a friendship between two people who lived within earshot of one another, separated only by a few inches of plaster and floorboard, but who scarcely ever met’ New Statesman
Reviews of Letters to the Lady Upstairs
‘A collection of letters to the neighbours about noise would seem unpromising material for a book, unless they were written by Marcel Proust, who was so sweet, kind, funny and charming, that his letters are a delightful surprise’ ***** Daily Telegraph
‘A delight. This slim book is special, not only because it reveals details of Proust’s life, but also in its simple celebration of friendship’ Observer
‘Translator Lydia Davis … reveals Proust’s brilliant, darting mind at work in an unfettered, conversational manner’ Arts Desk
‘Nearly as famous as Marcel Proust’s madeleine is his cork-lined bedroom at 102 Boulevard Haussmann, where he lay in bed and wrote most of A la Recherche du temps perdu … Letters to the Lady Upstairs gives us an oblique portrait of this closeted life.’ Times Literary Supplement
‘A haunting portrait of a friendship both evanescent and intense between two people who lived within earshot of one another, separated only by a few inches of plaster and floorboard, but who scarcely ever met’ New Statesman
‘Full of wit and playful decorum’ New Yorker
‘A trove of charming correspondence from literature’s most famous “noise phobic”’ Kirkus