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The Fall – Albert Camus

02 Sep

FallyJean-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.

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38 Comments

Posted by on 02/09/2014 in Modern Classics, Philosophy

 

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38 responses to “The Fall – Albert Camus

  1. shadowoperator

    02/09/2014 at 19:21

    Thanks for your review; I’ve been intending to read this for quite some time, but have never got around to it yet. What you say makes it sound very compelling. It’s funny, when I knew a lot less than I do now, when I was an undergraduate and was having my first encounter with existentialism, I thought i knew what the term really meant. Now, so much later, after watching so many people throw the term around in relation to Sartre, I’m no longer so sure that I really understood it then. I think Camus might be a welcome change.

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    • Ste J

      02/09/2014 at 19:31

      I have only read Sartre’s Existentialism and Humanism so am not as au fait with both as I would like and for a proper comparison. Existentialism does on first encounter seem a simple concept when first encountered but is as complex as they come. I was comfortable with Sartre’s short book but this one the shortness niggles at me, probably because there is so much to digest and I thought it would be a good idea to review it immediately after finishing it.

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  2. Bumba

    02/09/2014 at 19:34

    I was looking at Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground a little whileback, and I would say that Camus’s thinking and writing in The Fall follows directly from Dostoevsky. It’s Camus’ other works that are special. The Stranger, The Happy Death, The First Man, the stories from Revolt and Kingdom – the ones in North Africa. I was never too impressed by Camus’ philosophical writings, or never understood or related to them. But his pictures of Algeria sparkle for me.
    thanks for this review. I think you hit it squarely and gave us something to think about.

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    • Ste J

      02/09/2014 at 19:42

      Ah, I had heard something about that somewhere, I need to read more Dostoyevsky which is not a shocker. I like a book with more layers than first encountered…The Stranger was enjoyable, well for a given value of that word. I haven’t gotten around to reading the rest of those mentioned…yet. I find Camus’ theories somewhat unpalatable myself but his essay on rebellion and revolution is fascinating which you may enjoy.

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      • Bumba

        02/09/2014 at 22:15

        Oh yes. Albert Camus was quite a guy. And there’s a reason why no one reads philosophers too much anymore. There are some excellent movies, by the way, of Dostoevsky works. An Italian White Nights shot in Venice with Marcello Mastoianni, Kurasawa did The Idiot, Also, a recent Russian version of the Idiot. That whole opening of a story with a narrator on a train…

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        • Ste J

          03/09/2014 at 14:39

          I usually tend to read the book before watching the film but Kurasawa is so masterful in his direction that I think it would be worth me seeking out. Thanks for the tip off.

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  3. Al

    02/09/2014 at 21:19

    I’m not sure if I could read a book that was generally a monologue. Although saying that, Love in the Time of Cholera was in a similar vein so maybe I will see if I can rent it from Amazon Prime.

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    • Ste J

      03/09/2014 at 14:36

      Books with monologues are always a challenge for me as well but there are those books that always help change my mind…I like the idea of renting a book, like a library where yo don’t have to leave the house.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • Al

        03/09/2014 at 17:26

        Very much so. I forgot to cancel my Amazon Prime so why not use it.

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  4. Alastair Savage

    03/09/2014 at 07:11

    Although his novels can be quite dry at times, it’s worth checking out Camus’ work for the theatre too. There’s some lovely poetic writing in his play Caligula, for example.

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    • Ste J

      03/09/2014 at 14:33

      I haven’t checked out any of his plays, I will seek them out next time I hit Nottingham.

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  5. Love, Life and Whatever

    03/09/2014 at 07:27

    Contemplative and reflective..that’s my kinda book….will give it a shot nearly…thank you for enlightening us on books as always buddy

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    • Ste J

      03/09/2014 at 14:32

      I hope it affords you as much scope for musing as it did for me.

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  6. Letizia

    03/09/2014 at 17:41

    I quite like Camus but haven’t read this one (or don’t think I have. Perhaps as a teen? Will have to pick it up and see if it rings a bell.) How is your French? I suspect you would like his other works better in French – I have a hard time imagining his work translated into English for some reason.

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    • Ste J

      03/09/2014 at 19:05

      I am currently starting to relearn French and Camus’ shorter works will be amongst the books I first get involved in reading, perhaps one day I will graduate to Les Misérables, it is good to have a challenge to aim for. I do hanker for a book written in the author’s own language, it seems purer that way.

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      • Letizia

        03/09/2014 at 21:44

        That’s great that you are relearning French. I relearned Portuguese a few years ago (more or less successfully. I need a few days in Brazil for it to really come back). It was a bit tough at first but I’m happy I did it.

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        • Ste J

          06/09/2014 at 16:58

          Funnily enough, I need a few days in Brazil also. I like the challenge of languages and if it meant that I could impress everybody in that country with my mad language skillz, especially as the default English position is repeating everything loudly in our own language followed by mime, then I would be most happy.

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          • Letizia

            06/09/2014 at 17:57

            My Portuguese definitely includes some miming as well. I also accidentally slip in Italian words as, apparently, the languages are stored in the same memory cells in my brain. Somehow I manage to communicate!

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            • Ste J

              06/09/2014 at 18:01

              I bet they wonder where you come from with all those various languages pouring forth. I like that though, keeps ’em guessing. Mime is great especially for things where there isn’t a conceivable action to do but you nevertheless attempt it to a growing crowds amusement.

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              • Letizia

                06/09/2014 at 18:02

                When I was learning Italian I was tried to mime a computer. Turns out the word for computer in Italian is “computer”. Of course, they told me this after watching me mime it for a while, haha!

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                • Ste J

                  06/09/2014 at 18:04

                  Haha, that’s brilliant. I dearly hope that you made the noise that a printer makes and everything, I can see you doing it now. Brilliant.

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  7. Sherri

    04/09/2014 at 22:57

    ‘…for our innocence that, once lost, can never be recaptured…’ This is the line which grabs me and makes me want to read this book. That power of reflection on a life once good and now in turmoil. A lot to be said about that…
    Thank you Ste for another fantastic review. I don’t know how you do it, I really don’t…

    Like

     
    • Ste J

      06/09/2014 at 17:06

      It is funny you should say that as I wasn’t happy with this review, for me it lacked something, or quite a bit of something but as long as you guys keep enjoying them I will have to put it down to my picky ways.

      To do a review is easy, be enthusiastic, write down whatever occurs to you whenever it does and then bung it up in a draft, rearrange and flesh out. Then add picture and title and serve with copious amounts of likes and comments on your readers’ blogs. I think my analytical nature helps, I have to analyse everything, it is a goods mental exercise if nothing else.

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      • Sherri

        08/09/2014 at 15:31

        Well I thought it was very good…and you’ve obviously got a fan club who look forward to your reviews. You make me want to read books I would never have considered before. So there.

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        • Ste J

          09/09/2014 at 20:16

          I think I should get some T-shirts printed for the club and baseball caps as well…with my face on! I have always tried to push my reading boundaries and find new and fascinating works and everybody can do the same, if I can be the one that pushes them to explore such places then I am happy. It’s a two way street though as then I get recommendations back as everybody follows their unique reading path.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  8. Seyi sandra

    04/09/2014 at 23:37

    I’ve heard of Camus but hasn’t gotten round to reading any of his books. I love books that makes me think. I’ll also peg this down. I bet I’ll still be reading books you’ve reviewed till all my hairs turn grey! Great post dear friend!!

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    • Ste J

      06/09/2014 at 16:59

      You keep reading and I’ll keep posting, at least you know you will never be without a good book.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  9. LuAnn

    05/09/2014 at 13:55

    Books that I can return to time and again, reflecting on and drawing something new from them each time are worthy reads for me. Thanks for another great review Ste J.

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    • Ste J

      06/09/2014 at 17:01

      It is certainly a book that belies its physical depth. For some reason I am finding reviews hard to come by at the moment, not sure why, just a phase I think, I am picking up a few more authors of late that I haven’t previously explored, so hopefully I can keep rounding out the choice even further.

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  10. Al

    05/09/2014 at 23:24

    Someone is after advance reviewers for her book that is released next week. She offered it to me, but i am not a fast enough reader.

    https://jgiambrone.wordpress.com/

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    • Ste J

      06/09/2014 at 16:49

      Thanks for the info, I have had another offer with a couple of reviews I still need to write so I will have to see how much time I can spare…I’m not used to being busy again.

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      • Al

        06/09/2014 at 21:22

        You’ll be snowed under again before you know it

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        • Ste J

          07/09/2014 at 09:52

          Yeah 6-8 books in a queue as well as books I have on my shelves…it sounds great until it happens.

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          • Al

            07/09/2014 at 11:42

            Haha. I have only the book I am on at the moment, although there are a couple that I want to read

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  11. RoSy

    09/09/2014 at 02:14

    My mind can be a dangerous place to lose myself in.
    This sounds like a book that would do this to me.

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    • Ste J

      09/09/2014 at 20:14

      I would like to get lost in your mind, there wouldn’t be a dull moment, that’s for sure.

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  12. Jeff

    05/10/2014 at 19:23

    Never got around to The Fall. I should really, as a fan of the band that took the name. I shall look out ofr a secondhand copy, as is my wont. I can recommend The Plague. Very topical with Ebola at the moment. The novel shows a range of reactions to the distinct possibility of imminent death. If I recall from my old book group meetings, it has the occupation interpretation also, which is interesting too.

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    • Ste J

      05/10/2014 at 19:37

      The Plague felt less existential than his other works, although on reflection, it was working on a more subtle path than this book or The Outsider. These days just checking out the news headlines makes me feel my mortality!

      Like

       

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