Albert Camus is primarily known as the Nobel Prize winning author behind the legendary The Plague. He wrote other books too, of course, such as The Outsider, which even George W. Bush once read whilst still in the Oval orifice over in the US of A. We’ll cover it another time, however, as The Fall is what we want to take a look at on this most merry of days (it’s raining).
La Chute (the non-English title) is a philosophical novella which was published in 1956, four years after Jean-Paul Sartre and he had engaged in a full on verbal war regarding Camus’ essay The Rebel. Sartre, championing existentialism, was attempting to merge his leanings with Marxism, and the two didn’t exactly agree on the matter. The Fall emerged out of this battle of minds, for which we must be thankful.
In just over 100 slight pages, Camus stands as the accused and considers his life (ironically, this was Camus’ last complete work of fiction – he would die in a car crash in 1960). Is it autobiographical? Not entirely, but there’s a good deal of self-assessment in there, such as prose hinting at the author’s passion for football, and references to his good looks.
It’s set in Amsterdam and consists of a series of monologues from the character Jean-Baptiste Clamence. This character opens up about his life to a stranger in a bar, which ultimately leads to him confessing his sins to the reader. Clamence, a once successful lawyer, has had a crisis and has fallen from the upper echelons of society. Left in Amsterdam to contemplate it all, he’s taken on the role of the inebriated philosopher.
The novella can be seen as three parts, one element about Clemence’s successful life in Paris, the crisis, and finally he’s in Amsterdam ruminating over what once was. He’s not the nicest of characters, but the prose is forthright and compelling – one is drawn into this man’s world, whether you like it or not.
What’s stuck with us since we first read it in 2001 is Clemence’s conniving behaviour. For instance, he comments about how he’d help people on public transport (leaping out of his seat for old ladies, and so on) simply because he would get off on the feeling of being morally righteous. There’s nothing genuinely magnanimous about his behaviour, and as Brits this makes us outraged!
Anyway, we must conclude. The nature of our book reviews is to tempt you to read the chosen text whilst avoiding overt plot details. With The Fall you will find an elegant novella which showcases modern amorality, but this is dealt out in a concise, darkly intelligent, and witty way.
Balls to 50 Shades of Grey, if you want to embrace your dark side either watch the new Star Wars film and root for the baddies, or give this a read and find out how you can take on your Machiavellian side.