Sunday 16 October 2011

A time of pestilence state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.
In-between the usual weekend tasks - the shopping, the exercise, trying to find something to fill the empty hours - I conceded a need to finish The Plague, which seems an odd thing to say about a book I liked so much. I was curious as to whether a work of fiction from a key philosopher of the last century would manage to be more than intellectual exercise. I found it written with that same intelligence, clarity and genuine compassion for the trials of man I found in Sisyphus, with not a drop of wasted sentiment. Two observations: The by now familiar non-judgemental nature as evidenced by a refusal to condemn Cottard, a black marketeer who most would portray as villain, but of whom Tarrou is moved to describe as “that man, who had an ignorant, that is to say lonely, heart”. Second is the character Tarrou, who might be described as hero, though I can imagine much discussion over who fills this role best, or even whether - given this is Camus - such a role can be filled. He appears to embody some of the themes for which Camus would eventually find himself estranged from his contemporaries. In confiding to Rieux, Tarrou describes a changing relationship with his revolutionary friends:
...once I admitted the arguments of necessity and force majeure put forward by the less eminent, I couldn’t reject those of the eminent. To which they retorted that the surest way of playing the game of the red robes was to leave to them the monopoly of the death penalty. My reply to this was that if you gave in once, there was no reason for not continuing to give in. It seems to me that history has borne me out; today there’s a sort of competition who will kill the most. They’re all mad over murder and they couldn’t stop killing men even if they wanted to.
Obstinately humanist, what a superb writer Albert Camus was. I look forward to The Rebel.


  1. I read it again last year, for the first time in decades, having first read it for French A level. He was a wonderful writer.