IN SEARCH OF LOST THIIM
The fact is that for some time now Professor Zazzo Thim has been lost, and it is my duty to find him. The manner of his disappearance is, beyond question, one of the most unusual cases I have ever come across. Yet the evidence I have before me, and the testimony of various witnesses, all point to the one conclusion: that Professor Zazzo Thiim is trapped, helpless, somewhere in Marcel Proust’s grand novel, ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’.
It did not take me long to deduce the basics of this case. Various students and colleagues of the Professor attested that he was busy constructing some sort of grand device in the basement of the institute in which he was employed. Various noises had been heard from the cellar towards the end of each academic day, and strange lights were seen by those leaving the building, orange in hue and regulating a slow rhythm. Those closest to the Professor could not find out from him exactly what it was he was building, though one colleague, Doctor Hermann Spatt, was most helpful in his assertion that the Professor was constructing a device which would, atom by atom, replicate his body as a series of words, and distribute them throughout a chosen text.
‘How do you know this?’ I asked.
Spatt grinned at me from across his desk.
‘l asked my dear old colleague. I came right out and asked him. Of course, he was pretty drunk at the time. But he told me what the machine entailed and what would happen to him as a result’.
At this, Spatt’s smile faded, and he leaned back in his chair.
‘Such a sad waste’, he whispered.
‘You must obviously have been close to your colleague’, I said, gently.
‘Thiim? Oh no, I couldn’t stand the chap. What I’m sorry about is that a book so wondrous as ‘a la recherche . .’ should be sullied by his ugly mug’.
The key to the basement in question remained locked and, on account of the strong, fortified doors to the cellar. I quickly deduced that it would take months, possibly years to enter that sacred room. Yet I remembered what Doctor Hermann Spatt had told me, and I set about reading Proust’s epic tome, that I may find some mention within its pages of the eminent Professor Zazzo Thiim.
The institute was good enough to provide me with accommodation during my stay. It was late autumn, and the trees were almost without their leaves. The paths around the parkland in which the institute is set were slippery, and it seemed the sky was hardly ever anything but a deep grey.
Proust’s volumes accompanied me everywhere. I would take walks in the
gardens, or through the woods, with one volume open under my nose and the next thrust under my arm. I would go to the dining hall and sit with the other students, hardly noticing their banter, so engrossed was I in the societal gossip as recorded by the redoubtable Marcel. Even my rare journeys outside of the campus were spent in the company of the Guermantes family, the many minor characters and the overriding sense of times past as recorded in those weighty books. It seemed my whole life had started to revolve around the novel, and I would make lísts of the endless family members, associates and contemporaries of the narrator, but each evening I would sit down and study these lists, safe in the knowledge that none of those mentioned bore the slightest resemblance to Professor Zazzo Thiim.
At around this time, Doctor Hermann Spatt, with the help of two science students and a Professor in electronics, began to build a machine using the blueprints found in Thim’s empty office which might, when up and running, be able to rescue the Professor from the depths of the accursed novel. The machine started to take shape in a far corner of the institute’s gymnasium, roped off from the rest of the hall by an arrangement of badminton nets, and each lunch time I would call in to see what progress was being achieved.
‘None at all, Spatt said, despairingly. ‘The machine just wont function. It needs more electricity than we are supplied’.
‘Then how did Thiim’s machine run so effectively?’ I asked.
Spatt pushed back the hair from his forehead and let out a deep sigh. “The energy needed to suck a character from a book is ten times more powerful than that needed to throw a character into the narrative. You see, Thiim had the advantage of gravity, but we have nothing, nothing at all’.
I walked around the machine and looked at it from many angles.
“It’s looking quite hopeless’, Spatt said, and l swear I saw a tear well in the corner of his eye as he contemplated his missing colleague.
That night I retired to my room. By now the bed was covered with the six volumes of Proust’s masterpiece. My reading of it was haphazard at best, covering the first three sections of each novel simultaneously, so that my understanding of the plot and the order in which Marcel’s life was playing out was tenuous at best. At worst,I didn’t know what was going on.
So many dukes, matriarchs, minor members of the aristocracy, childhood memories, subtle, beautiful women with strangely masculine names. That night I fell asleep and found myself in a nightmare, a dark, dismal Paris street where Proustian characters advanced upon me with their arms outstretched, their eyes displaying a frightening malice, humming, intoning some strange, ritualistic prayer which sounded for all the world like Kylie Minogue’s first hit single, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’. I woke with a start, frightened into reality yet not trusting the world around me, the darkness of the night, the wind which, ever so gently, was roaring in the trees and stripping them of the last of the leaves.
I got up and walked to the window. I was dizzy, I was sweating, yet the room was cold. It was as if the natural laws which surrounded and informed us all had ceased, that the earth itself no longer recognised whatever constitutions had kept it going for so many years. I rubbed my eyes and looked at the trees, and the leaves falling, one by one, across the sodium light of a campus street-lamp.
‘My God’, I whispered.
Excitedly, I telephoned Doctor Hermann Spatt immediately. He answered on the third ring, and asked, blearily, what it was I wanted.
‘The machine!'”, I said. ‘You remember what you were saying? That Thiim had the benefit of gravity?’
‘And that we needed more energy because we were sucking a character out of a book, not throwing one in?’
‘Then why don’t we just turn the whole machine upside down? Put the machine on the floor and the book suspended above!’
There was silence on the other end of the line, and then Spatt’s voice cane back. ‘My word!’, he said, ‘You’re a genius!’
The next morning Spatt, accompanied by his assistants, set to work making the modifications I had suggested, while I, now with the help of three assistants of my own, continued my reading of Proust’s novel. We each took a volume and, starting at the very beginning, ploughed our way through the dense script, using different translations and even the French language original, so that we were working on three separate texts at once. Halfway through the afternoon Spatt rang to tell me that the machine was working perfectly, and all it needed was for me to find Thiim in the novel so that we might rescue him. This news gave us a welcome feeling of progress and we intensified our efforts until, by six in the evening, we were all very tired and our eyes and heads ached.
‘Thank you, lads’, I whispered, as they headed towards the door.
‘Erm, we were wondering’, said one of them, an amiable young man by the name of Adam. ‘Would you like to come out for a drink tonight?’
I smiled at their offer, for it was proof that we had gelled as a team. “Thank you, but I would rather maintain my faculties’, I told them.
Their shoulders slumped.
‘And I suggest you do the same, for we need our full concentration if we are ever to find the Professor’.
Adam smiled. ‘Very well’, he said. ‘We wouldn’t have gone overboard, anyway. Just a couple of drinks and then back home’.
‘Thanks once again’, I whispered.
The days were getting shorter, and once I had eaten my dinner, (accompanied, once
again, by the ever-present Monsieur Proust), I went back to my room and prepared for sleep. To be honest, I was beginning to doubt that we would ever find Thiim in this mammoth book, and a part of me was content just to sit back and enjoy the experience of being a small part in such a large, well-funded experiment. Though the more l thought about it, the more desperate l started to become, as I realised that the whole project now depended on me and my abilities wade through the novel for just the smallest clue. Worse still, I was afraid to sleep, for I knewthat I would be haunted by Kylie once again, that inane, stupid song, 1 Should Be So Lucky!’
Timidly, I retired to my bed.
At two in the morning I was woken by a fierce pounding on my door. Hardly able to concentrate, I opened the door and blinked in amazement to see Robert de Saint-Loup.
‘Do forgive my intrusion’, said he, ‘But I was wondering if you had had word of the Duc de Guermantes?”
‘I beg your pardon?’, said I, hardly believing my eyes.
At that moment M. de Charlus bounded down the corridor and patted Saint-Loup on the shoulder.
‘There you are!”, said he. His eyes then focused on myself, standing in the doorway in a pair of boxer shorts and nothing else.
‘Hello!’, he said, twirling his moustache.
‘I say!’, said a voice from the end of the corridor.
They both looked up and bowed, courteously, as Albertine approached. “Are you not on the way to the Verdurin ball? I proclaim it to be the most whimsical event of the decade!’
Hurriedly, I shut my door, then went over to the window. Oh, what a scene met my eyes!
The quiet park was awash with people, elegantly dressed, bowing, nodding, dancing, chatting in the glare of the street-lamp as if they were in a ball or a turn of the century function. And they were all, I was horrified to note, characters from Marcel Proust’s mighty tome.
I telephoned Spatt and he confirmed my worst suspicions. Some students, drunk of course, had broken into the gymnasium and fiddled with the machine.
Instead of pulling the hapless Thiim from the depths of the novel, they had, wantonly and without thought to the effects of their crime, pulled out every other character instead.
‘But this is horrendous!’, I whispered.
‘There’s no choice’, said Spatt. ‘We must round them all up and post them back into that hideous novel. Do you know what they’re doing now? They’re in the canteen, holding a mass madeleine tasting. This has got to stop!’
‘There’s only one way we can get them back into the novel’, I told the Doctor. ‘We must break into the basement and use Thiim’s machine’
It took the best part of the night to round up all of the characters. Because we had been using three different translations, there were three of each of them, and the three Marcels had met some time after half four and, indignant that their individualities had been compromised, had challenged each other to a duel, (from which, naturally, each one backed out.) Charlus was the worst, and three of his characters had to be retrieved from the public lavatories and from various male student’s bedrooms before they were all accounted for. At last we had rounded them
all up and we were engaged in the act of congregating them around the door to the basement, a tricky act which was achieved only by the entertainment of a piano playing Chopin and the liberal refreshment of champagne. Spatt and I, meanwhile, busied ourselves at the door. The thick oak would not budge to our shoulders, neither to a rudimentary battering ram fashioned out of an old roll-top desk. However, when one of the Robert de Saint-Loups saw what we were trying to achieve, he supplied us with some dynamite which, he assured us, was fresh from the Great War battlefields.
The following explosion was deafening. Two of the Mme de Verdurins went flying through the air, their stiff petticoats flaying in all directions. At last we entered that hallowed room and saw Thiim’s machine which, somewhat comfortingly, looked not unlike the reverse example we had fashioned in the gymnasium. Yet only now did Spatt and I see the almost fatal mistake that Thiim had made.
Indeed, the machine functioned well, and had been put together expertly. However, the absent-minded Professor had, one can only assume, accidentally, mistakenly placed within its confines not Proust’s magnificent novel, but a CD of Kylie’s first UK Number One hit, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’
It didn’t take long for the machine to be put to use. How affectionately we said good-bye to all the characters, who each invited us to various balls and society functions for the following Paris season. When they were all quite delivered, Spatt and I took Thiim’s CD upstairs to the gymnasium, where we placed it on top of the machine and pulled the necessary levers.
Seconds later, Professor Zazzo Thiim materialised.
‘Oh, my word’, he said, feeling his nervous forehead. ‘I was having the time of my life! l’ve never danced so much!”‘
‘You realise what you did?’ Spatt asked.
‘Oh, the CD? Entirely intentional, my dear friend.
‘But that’s preposterous!’
‘So many hours I’d spent on that machine, a copy of Proust under my arm. So many years I’d dreamed of meeting those wondrous characters. Yet when it came time to leave I thought long and hard about it . . ‘.
‘And I realised that I would rather be with Kylie, instead’.
‘Well, my dear Spatt. They’re so stuffy, aren’t they? And Kylie’s much more . . . Vivacious’.
At this, Thiim looked left, then right, then left again.
‘And another thing’, he added, confidentially, ‘She’s a much better dancer’.
Alas, the story does not end here. The following week, Kylie’s management refused to confirm that a new version of her original hit single had been mixed, with some quite bizarre vocals by various French dignitaries, mostly concerning the petty discriminations and social faux pas of early 20th Century Paris.
‘My god!’, Spatt whispered to me, down the telephone line. ‘We must have sent them to the wrong place!’
Yet not one scholar, student or academic genius happened to notice that Proust’s six-volume masterpiece now seemed not to have a single character left in it at all.