Proust's last novel

Alexey Savrasov, Volga near Yuryevets, 1870


Commentary on the book by Cláudio Aguiar

Proust's last novel, by the writer Cláudio Aguiar, narrates the search for the manuscripts of the famous French novelist, Marcel Proust (1871-1922), by smugglers and art forgers, who land in tropical lands with the purpose of rescuing them at any cost. The action takes place in Olinda, a colonial city in Pernambuco, during the 1972 carnival.

The manuscripts would be in the hands of Latin professor Danilo Morais, who lives the nightmare of having them stored in his old dresser drawers. The fact that the professor kept – or did not keep – the manuscripts in his possession is a mystery that the author will preserve until the final pages.

In any case, there are logical justifications for their existence, since they were brought to Brazil before Marcel Proust's death, by his “lover and secretary”, Henri Rochat, to whom the French writer, already ill and unable to write, dictated the last three volumes of the seminal in search of lost time. With it, other unpublished manuscripts were also brought, and since then, they have been reported missing.

Faced with this plot, it is necessary for the reader to do his part by interacting with the pieces assembled by the narrator. And, apart from the plot, you should be alert to the references, as quotations about the life and work of Marcel Proust are frequent. None of this, however, suggests any resistance to readers: the style is agile and the language accessible.

Without losing sight of the comprehensive context of what is conventionally called police literature, Proust's last novel approaches the subgenre Black. A contemporary fiction that brings the dark marks of human action wrapped in suspense.

The essayist Lyslei Nascimento, in a study of Brazilian criminal literature, observes that the big cities inspire these fictions: “Beyond the short stories, black, Brazilian literature has been producing, over the last few decades, a number of novels in which cities are privileged territories for the orchestration of crimes and misdeeds that bring into play the urban space with its ills, characters that succumb in deadly plots and stories whose multifaceted content translates into veritable chessboards.”

With plots that mix violence, mystery and suspense in an environment of shadows, literature Black presents characters displaced from society, far from the detectives of traditional police literature, restorers of law and order.

The plot of the novel begins to be woven in Paris, when Pierre Cambronne, a former French army officer, is hired by a smuggler and art forger to recover the originals of the French writer, supposedly in the possession of Professor Danilo Morais, a resident in Olinda. “When Cambronne and Ponds met for the second time at the Cabaret Au Lapin Agile restaurant in Montmartre, they were both excited and euphoric about the project they were going to undertake.”

From there it is possible to glimpse the moral universe of the characters involved, but literature has always fed on these contradictory feelings, and evil and behavioral transgressions, as literary themes, function as factors of seduction of readers. According to Lyslei Nascimento, all aspects of contemporary detective fiction place subjects who “can be characterized as inhuman or bestialized” in the scenario of crimes and transgressions.

After preparing for the act that they would launch, Cambronne and Ponds leave for Brazil, and here they are joined by Lídice, a friend who will serve as a guide in the city. Dressed as an odalisque, she exudes sensuality and tries to seduce the professor who keeps the manuscripts. Carnival days favor the execution of the planned act, as the city is transformed with the constant movement of people, who are barely recognizable in their disguises.

But, as time goes by, they realize that the chances of success in their endeavor decrease. By the way, the parts of the book are arranged according to the days of Carnival, and the narrator takes advantage of this fact to describe the troça parades and carnival blocks, and the intense movement of revelers through the streets of the colonial city.

Aspects of the life and work of the French writer Marcel Proust are narrated by Danilo Morais, when he finds himself in the basement of a townhouse under the orders of his tormentors. He tries to dissuade them with long digressions on subjects that are outside his scope. With this artifice, the author obtains a didactic effect – when talking about a universal writer – and delays the narrative, in order to sustain the suspense that is typical of this literary genre.

Other works by the author

Cláudio Aguiar is the author of the book “Francisco Julião – uma vida” (Brazilian Civilization, 2014), for which he won the Jabuti Prize. The book, which consumed ten years of work, with research, interviews and writing, tells the life of the leader of the Peasant Leagues, who was born and lived in Pernambuco, before leaving for exile in Mexico, at the end of the 1960s. “The last night of Kafka and other dramas”, bringing together his 11 plays (ABL, Ibis Libris, 2015); the book of poems “Baile de luz” (2019) and “A casa de João Fernandes Vieira” (2021), both published by Ibis Libris.

Cláudio Aguiar graduated in Law from the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) and holds a PhD from the University of Salamanca, Spain. He belongs to Academia Pernambucana de Letras, Academia Carioca de Letras, and was president of Pen Clube do Brasil, an organization of writers committed to defending freedom of expression.

*Marcio Salgado is a journalist and writer. PhD in Communication from UFRJ. author of the novel The Desert Philosophermultifocus).


Claudio Aguiar. Proust's last novel. Rio de Janeiro, Ibis Libris, 2022 (


NASCIMENTO, Lyslei. Cities and crimes: a profile of contemporary Brazilian criminal literature. In: JEHA, Julio. (Org.). Noir: approximations. Belo Horizonte: FALE/UFMG, 2017, p. 91-107.

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