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Saturday, 6 October 2012

The Fall by Albert Camus

I didn't really know anything about Camus' book The Fall when I picked it up for reading. All I really knew was that it was the last of his works to be published before his death; as such I suppose I was expecting something that was perhaps more complex than what I'd read in The Outsider and The Just Assassins. I certainly got that at least.

The Fall consists of the confession of a man named Jean-Baptiste Clamence. He meets another Frenchman in the bar in Amsterdam that he has taken to frequenting, and over the course of several nights confesses to his sins. Basically, it's a character study. And it's certainly an interesting one.
The main topic that is often referenced is that of judgement and penitence. Clamence's main issue with life is that he becomes convinced that everyone around him is judging him, and in the process mocking him; thus a lot of his confession is the lengths that he goes to either to stop the judgement occurring or to make himself superior to it. What it adds up to is a fascinating character portrait that is sympathetic and yet utterly self-absorbed at the same time. For example, one of the things that he mentions is that he used to be incredibly generous and helpful to people in need, as it made him feel morally superior; while the motives are selfish, can one really judge him negatively if the results of his actions are good? I say that, but at the same time there are things that he confesses to, like walking away after hearing someone fall off of a bridge, that are harder to justify, even if it does feel like it rings true to life.
The translator's notes bring up an interesting viewpoint for the novel: the idea that Clamence is either a satirical portrayal of a former friend of Camus', Jean-Paul Sartre, or a self-portrait of the author. Although I only know the basics of the disagreement between the two men, I can certainly see why people see the former interpretation working. I think it would be more interesting to look into the latter interpretation more, as it's very much removed from the idealised version of oneself that authors are tempted to write into their stories; it takes a lot of courage to write a version of yourself that is this morally ambivalent.

This is the kind of book that I really want to talk about more, but struggle to. I don't for a second believe that I've understood it all in this reading, so I would say that those looking for books that benefit multiple readings will probably enjoy this. What I can say from my initial reading is that those looking for a well-written, in-depth character study will like The Fall. I would also say that those who were put off of Camus by The Outsider might want to take a look at this, as the narrator is more noticeably charming compared to Meursault. Definitely a book to try at least once. 4.5/5

Next review: The Child of Pleasure by Gabriele D'Annunzio

Signing off,

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