Best known for his seven-volume masterpiece A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time), French writer Marcel Proust is considered to be one of the finest novelists of the 20th century. Though born into upper-class society—his Catholic father was a doctor and his Jewish mother came from a well-known Jewish family—Proust did not show much ambition or aptitude as a young man. Indeed, he was a dilettante and man about town who spent his time having love affairs and squandering an inheritance.

As biographer Benjamin Taylor makes clear in Proust: The Search, all that seemed to changed in the wake of a series of devastating events, culminating in his mother’s death, when he was in his 30s. Taylor joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss what his writerly about-face meant for the history of literature, why Swann’s Way—the first volume in this epic work—spoke to Taylor so personally as a youngster, and what Proust has or hasn’t in common with the multi-volume storytellers of our day—Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard.