Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Plague by Albert Camus

The Plague by Albert Camus (1947, 320 pages, Stuart Gilbert)

A Very Influential Post WWII Novel

"Great Fears of the Sickenesses here in the city"-- April 30, 1665, Samuel Pepys

Albert Camus (1913 to 1960-French Algeria) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947 largely for this work and his prior novel The Stranger.  (There is some background information on Camus in my post on The Stranger.)    Both of these works are often assigned in university class devoted to existentialism even though Camus said over and over he was not an existentialist.   (Hmm, can you label you label your self as an existentialist without contradicting the whole idea?)   

The Plague is a photo realistic account of what happens in an Algerian town when an epidemic of the plague breaks out.  There are plenty of accounts of the plots of the novel online for those seeking help with their homework so I will just make a few observations.

The first question that comes to mind is why did Camus win the Nobel Prize based just on two novels and some essays?   I think it is because he captured the immediate post WWII mood of many people, especially French and Japanese, very troubled by the events of the war years.    

I said in my post on Ark Sukura by Kobo Abe that a very important theme in much post WWII Japanese literature concerns finding a way to live an authentic valuable life in a world in which all of the values you were taught to believe in have been exposed as hollow lies.   Maybe this is one of the questions addressed in The Plague. 

Maybe The Plague (and much of the writings of Kenzaburo Oe) could be part of a college reading assignment called "Ethics for  Atheists"?   

I found The Plague held my attention from the start.   Even though I knew what it meant when 1000s of rats started dying all over the city it was still a scary scene right out of a horror movie.   It was interesting to see how the civil authorities react to the outbreak of the plague.   

I am glad I at last have read The Plague.    It is a very important novel and it is actually pretty exciting.   Neophytes in the Japanese novel like myself need to read this book as part of their cultural background.   It is no accident writers of a destroyed culture would gravitate to the works of Camus and Sartre.  

No need to be put off this book thinking it is a crushingly heavy philosophical novel.   

I was given a copy of this book by a patron of my blog in New Delhi, for which I am very grateful.

Please share your experience with Camus with us.

I think the next "big" European novel I will read will be The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.

This post is my participation in the I Love France Event which takes place every Thursday on Words and Peace.   I  hope a lot of other people will join in supporting this great event.   

Mel u


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this great review. In my younger years, I loved Camus a lot. Haven't read him for a while though. Do you know about my 'I love France' meme, every Thurs? Maybe you could link your post to my latest issue of this meme, posted yesterday, that would fit perfectly. In case you are interested, go here:
Emma @ Words And Peace

Mel u said...

Words and Peace-took your suggestion-I hope a lot of people will support this great weekly event.

Mel said...

Goodness there is alot of pestilence reading going on at the moment. I have not read anything by Camus, but your review makes me feel like I could give this a go. I did assume his work would be quite challenging.

I have just finished Nemesis by Philip Roth (about a polio epedemic) and I am currently reading Year of Wonders by Australian author Geraldine Brooks about the plague.

Your review has added to the current theme :) and encourages me to read this French literary heavy weight.

Hope you're have a wonderful weekend.

Rebecca Chapman said...

The only Camus novel I have read is The Outsider/The Stranger (depending on your transaltion I think).

I read it beofre i was blogging but I really enjoyed it - if enjoy is the right word for a Camus novel. It was very serious and covered some dark material but it was such a compelling read. No matter how hard you tried to understand the main character it was almost impossible, he as beyond understanding.

I would love the read another book by Camus so I will keep an eye out for this one.

@parridhlantern said...

Love Camus, read most of his works when younger & preferred him to Sartre. Camus saw himself more in the absurdists vein as opposed to existentialist. If you want to understand Camus try his The Rebel, which he described as his attempt to understand the time he lived in, for more of an overview you could pick up his Selected Essays & notebooks- both the above mentioned books are Penguin 20C classics. Also one for your short stories would be Exile & The Kingdom.

JoV said...

I have this on my shelf and I wanted to read this sometime in November. I like Camus but I will one day have to read something from Satre. Thanks for the review Mel.

TBM said...

I read this novel years ago in college. I need to reread since I really don't remember much about it. Thanks for the review.

Rebecca Reid said...

I couldn't finish this novel. I've read The Stranger twice, but this one....yech, just wasn't working for me. In general, I don't think existentialism is for me.

Paulita said...

My son had to read The Stranger last year in high school. They started a big group of high school boys discussing existentialism in another boy's garage.
I know, from the I Love France meme, that you love everything about France like I do, so I wanted to tell you about my book The Summer of France which is now available Here on Kindle or
Here on Nook or
Here in Paperback
Warning, though, it is no where near on the level of Camus.