Book Review - The Plague
(Merrimack, NH, USA)
The Plague by Albert Camus is a post World War II existentialist novel that appeared in French (La Peste) in 1947 and English translation (Stuart Gilbert) in 1948. It is assuredly one of the most important books I have ever read. W
hy? First, it is an utterly masterful, engaging and spell-binding novel. But many books accomplish these things.
What is more remarkable is that here the Nobel Laureate examines the true character of humanity under the greatest duress, mortal fear, exhaustion and quarantined isolation.
While many people find it bleak and even pessimistic, I do not at all. In fact, I think its many layers and depth reveal the noblest things possible in this life.
This book develops quickly from the ominous first signs of death and ruin in a North African town called Oran: Public officials are at first stupefied and then horrified by the deaths of common rats.
Moving from denial to unrelenting suffering, the people are shut off from the rest of the world as they are forced to come to terms with an outbreak of bubonic plague.
Interminable sickness, suffering, loss, grief and the long hard work of caring for the sick and dying mingle with no prognosis for relief besides the contagion finally expending itself.
Many characters live and die anonymously, as happens every day in this impersonal world, while others are familiar and others are deeply and intimately revealed.
At the back of my mind, one niggling question propelled my reading: Who is this narrator, clearly so deeply involved in the story, clearly a survivor, more and more clearly one of the main characters telling the tale at some later date?
Through his eyes one comes to the profound understandings of the meaning of compassion and the meaning of what it means to really be a hero or a saint – or not.
This book is not for the faint-hearted. But it certainly is worthy of renewed discussion and consideration, for the questions of what it means to endure and win in the midst of horrible pain, and the problems of what it means to really care, are perennial.
Anyone who wants a better grip on knowing the Truth of who we are and who we are meant to be must read The Plague.
Note from Megan, Editor of The Book Club Guide
Thanks for the review of this important work, Pat. You really get to the heart of what this book is about.
When I read this book, I came away with many of the same questions as you -- namely, who is the narrator, and what do we learn from them? What moral and ethical boundaries should we adhere to? What does it mean to "be good"?