The Plague by Albert Camus

 

The Plagueby Albert Camus

Albert Camus's world-renowned fable of fear and courage

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

An immediate triumph when it was published in 1947, The Plague is in part an allegory of France's suffering under the Nazi occupation, and a story of bravery and determination against the precariousness of human existence.

'A matchless fable of fear, courage and cowardice' - Independent

'Magnificent' - The Times

 

From the back of the book:

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they are forced into quarantine. Each person responds in their own way to the lethal disease: some resign themselves to fate, some seek blame, and a few, like Dr. Rieux, resist the terror.

Albert Camus was born in Algeria in 1913. He studied philosophy in Algiers and then worked in Paris as a journalist. He was one of the intellectual leaders of the Resistance movement and, after the War, established his international reputation as a writer. His books include The Plague, The Just and The Fall, and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Camus was killed in a road accident in 1960.

My Review:

I have mixed feelings about this book as the first half was excruciatingly slow, but the second half I quite enjoyed.  The descriptions of the town and the banal feelings of the overall population become repetitive very quickly.  In contrast, the descriptions of the main characters were cold and unfeeling (despite this being explained later).  Given the current epidemic we are experiencing, there have been so many emotions that people around the world have shared.  As a result, Camus' writing on the feelings of the people in the town come across as obvious and not particularly insightful.  If we had read this in another time, maybe it would have made the first half of the book more interesting.

(slight spoilers)

From the second half of the book, it felt like there was an actual story as something ALMOST happened as Rambert was planning his escape.  From this point on, I was able to stop thinking of the main characters as needing to be fully-fleshed out people and more as a vessel for Camus' philosophical thoughts on the different facets of human nature and how they can influence our reaction to a plague/terror.  It feels like the allegory with the Nazi occupation of France was more effective in this part of the book, although, I agree with critics who feel that using a natural disease is not an appropriate substitution for something so horrific perpetrated by other people.

On the whole, I think the book sparked a good discussion for our book club, with a number of people disliking the book entirely.  However, I appreciated the insight into how different people react when faced with a terrible fate and society's willingness and desire to quickly celebrate any progress and forget the ills of the recent past.  He was quite clear not to paint anyone with an "evil" brush, instead choosing to explain the motivations behind the characters.

I believe there can be some parallels drawn to social injustices and racism that we see today, a foreboding that the book leaves us with.  In each instance, the larger population initially reacting with indifference to a threat they can not see or experience themselves.  And in keeping with this book, many people are now waking up to the realities of the "plagues" of today and choosing how they will meet the threat.

Here is a quote from the book that perfectly sums up my feelings:

"'...the plague is merciless.'

'On the whole, it is,...but if you persevere, you can have some pleasant surprises.'"

3/5

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