Saturday, February 06, 2010

Book Review : The Fall - Albert Camus 6*

After War And Peace I was going to read something more lightweight, so obviously I picked up some French philosophy, well, this is lighter only in terms of sheer size.

The protagonist of The Fall is described by himself (and the style is very much echoed in The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamed) as he talks to another man in a bar. Jean-Baptiste Clamence is a successful lawyer in Paris, he has risen swiftly through he ranks of his job and is well respected by his colleagues, he is cultured and appreciative of the good things in like, he is handsome and successful with women, his life seems ideal.

Yet Clamence feels a hollowness at the centre of everything, he is not married and his relationships with women are short term and emotionally unfulfilling, he begins to see the judgements of the court as arbitrary and ultimately pointless and he seems to set out more by word than deed to destroy his old life. Slights against him are blown up to huge proportion, if he stumbles on a step he imagines that everyone is laughing at him and secretly wishes to see him fall.

I feel I understood the the first half of the novel fairly well, the second half isn't so clear to me. Clamence may have witnessed a suicide, a woman falls from a bridge into the Seine and his own fall from grace roughly mirrors hers. He has no faith, and no real love for anyone and cannot understand these feelings in others, he is detached and unwilling to commit, and this drives to him to try and persuade the man in the bar, who is representing the reader, that everyone else should feel the same.

Jean-Baptiste Clamence holds a similar world view to Holden Caulfield, J D Salinger's nihilistic protagonist in Catcher In The Rye which was published five years before Camus' The Fall, but Camus' character is much more introspective, and whilst Caulfield thinks people are just 'fakes', Clamence believes that they should share in his sense of guilt.

Interesting, not an easy read despite only having 80 pages, Camus asks us to examine whether everything we hold dear is actually true, love, friendship, passion, faith, are they just all hollow constructs to patch over the ultimate pointlessness of life ? Myself, I don't believe so, I believe they are the things that make us what we are and bind us together.

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