Book of da Week: Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Wall

Jean-Paul Sartre The Wall
It’s Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Wall. This has nothing to do with Pink Floyd.

Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Wall gets covered this week. We reviewed The Age of Reason (one of our favourite books) quite some time ago, but we’re back for more Sartre in the form of a short story. It’s about 20 pages, so this one certainly is very short! It’s just as well its part of an ensemble selection of other short stories Sartre wrote, meaning you get proper book consisting of plenty of wee short books. We feel we don’t have to explain this anymore to you for you to understand, but just in case: The Wall is a selection of short stories! Got it yet?

We’re focusing solely on The Wall, the eponymous story (we state this simple due to our fondness of the word “eponymous” – isn’t it cool?) as it’s the most eye-opening, for sure. Written in 1939, it’s a harsh and brutal tale of three prisoners who are condemned to death during the Spanish Civil War. Scary, right? Indeed, and it was a perfect platform for Sartre (who, indeed, did battle during the war) to dabble with his notions on existentialism. Groovy!

The Wall

This has been a habit we keep falling into by mistake – we keep reading books with existential overtones. It’s not too unusual, we suppose, given the philosophical movement permeates (gosh, we hate that word!) the spectrum (urgh, what a Hipster!) within which the sphere of consequential existence we all inhabit is intrinsic (we’re not sure if that made sense, but if it made us come across as pretentious then fantabulous!). God, we’re smart.

The Wall isn’t exactly a cheerful book, but what Sartre does do is generate genuine tension and a sense of impending doom. We join three men in a prison cell shortly after they have been condemned to death via firing squad. They’re left in a prison cell for the night to mull over their impending dooms, and the three experience varying emotional reactions during the night.

One totally loses it, wets himself, and spends the whole night sobbing uncontrollably. The other two are a bit more controlled, if numb with shock. The lead character primarily muses over the inevitability of his demise, which he can, however, resolve if he provides his captives with details on the whereabouts of a resistance fighter. He decides to forfeit his life instead, which leads him on a tormented route of contemplation before coming round to a surprise ending.

In the introduction to our edition, Justin Cartwright states the ending is “improbable”. We won’t give any spoilers away here, but we think stating it’s “improbable” is  moronic. Yeah, we went there, Justin Cartwright! The fact is, stranger things have happened in this world and The Wall doesn’t stretch wondrous possibilities to any bizarre extent. It’s an excellent and gritty read – we can highly recommend it.

The Wall Online!

If you simply can’t wait to get your hands on The Wall, you can read the whole thing online. Pretty useful this internet thing, isn’t it? One such location where the text is uploaded verbatim is the site of a Stephane Chabrieres – cheers for this, Stephane! Get over there to read it: The Wall.

2 comments

  1. Very neat! I read one of his books… years ago. It wasn’t a story, though. It was on existentialism. I can’t remember the title, but it took me months to read. I’d read a sentence.. then reread it, then think about it, then I’d have to reread the pages, then reread the chapter. Sigh! I didn’t know he wrote stories. Guess I’ll read one now!

    Liked by 1 person

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