Jean-Baptiste Clamence is a soul in turmoil. Over several drunken nights in an Amsterdam bar, he regales a chance acquaintance with his story. From this successful former lawyer and seemingly model citizen a compelling, self-loathing catalogue of guilt, hypocrisy and alienation pours forth. The Fall (1956) is a brilliant portrayal of a man who has glimpsed the hollowness of his existence. But beyond depicting one man’s disillusionment, Camus’s novel exposes the universal human condition and its absurdities – for our innocence that, once lost, can never be recaptured.
I’ve always been a little underwhelmed with Camus’ fiction but doggedly I have struggled on to find that defining book which would further interest me in his brand of Existentialism.
In a pub in Amsterdam we find Jean-Baptiste Clamence, who proceeds to give a monologue over several nights about his life and his beliefs to a chance acquaintance he meets in a bar.
The 96 page length of the book means the story is tight but still allows for the wayward nature of J-B to hold forth on his often confused and contradictory views. The first half of the book introduces us to a man who lived a ‘good’ life, it details his thoughts and beliefs and contains a fair bit of wit as well.
The latter half is the real nitty-gritty of the book though, as it charts J-B’s life crisis, how he has adapted his life to his new-found beliefs and the real reason that he has taken the route he has. There is a lot to contemplate here and the conclusions that are put forward are intriguing if decidedly bleak.
Exploring the flaws and frailties of humanity could take up a mighty tome in itself yet Camus melds this analysis with a study on the internal isolation of the human soul trying to find a purity to living. Struggling with guilt and alienation, there are insights into the human condition through his main character’s confused story,
The rules we make for ourselves and society are as flawed as we are because of the human need for self-preservation. We tend to judge our morals against society which is inevitably a mish-mash of hypocrisy and corruption. The whole arbitrary reality has us existing on circumstance and inconsistencies is taken to the rational extreme, becoming self-aware is the start of a self journey into the meaning of perhaps one’s own life.
Of the three fiction books of Camus that I have read, this is definitely the strongest. There is a lot to contemplate and a second and third reading will be well worth it at some later date. His inclination to bounce ideas around quickly sometimes make it a little overwhelming to take in unless one wishes to stop every page or two to really think about the ideas.