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The Fall by Albert Camus

The Fall (1956)

by Albert Camus

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English (39)  French (3)  Danish (2)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (47)
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Penguin Modern Classics ed., translated by Robin Buss

Self-important French twunt drones on about his self-importance, bouts of shame and fall from grace, in Amsterdam bar and environs.

As mentioned quite a few times before, I'm tired of this sort of narrator, though I see how it has more literary complexity than a monologue by a nicer person. (I only read it just now because the book's under 100 pages.) His rambles are addressed to a hypothetical listener and companion, who must be a saint, one of his best friends (the former probably required for the latter) or being paid to hear them. I didn’t miss the bit at the end in which he mentions how he adapts his account to the listener, or his conceit / hope of acting as their confessor /absolver by telling his own story.

It's curious to see many reviews referring to the possibility of the reader seeing themselves in this narrative. This is a humbling attitude to unreliable narrators which I pretty much grew up with, and which always seemed to be a significant value attributed to them by critics and academics - but which I've otherwise virtually never seen on GR except as some furtive confessional. Where instead these characters tend to be vilified unambiguously and othered, thereby making a reader who considered they were doing the right thing by examining themselves for similarities to a narrator who's often acted worse than they ever have, feel entirely rotten.

The Fall was a drag to read; as a first-person study of this type of personality, I prefer David Foster Wallace’s ‘Good Old Neon’, or a little more tangentially, Portnoy’s Complaint - both of which I found infinitely more engaging. Clamence's life hasn't exactly been unusual for a man of his age and class found in literary writing, and his supercilious tone detracts from what might have been points of interest.

It wasn’t entirely without those; gorgeous descriptions of Paris and Amsterdam, and there are some good observations of people. So many I’d seen before in portraits of similar characters though: this could be a case of a classic being samey for a reader who comes to it late, having already read plenty of works it’s inspired. The bits about Christianity towards the end were more novel. And I think if The Fall were encountered by someone who was newly mired in the shame of realisation that Clamence has experienced (who feels shame and guilt more deeply and enduringly than he does), it at least has a value, as literature does, of showing a person rather than a case study or a monster. Also possibly useful for the too-clever-by-half middle-class teenagers who are the (stereo)typical audience for existentialism, in hinting that their arrogance isn't entirely a good thing.

I'm finding it a lot more interesting to read about this book than to read the real thing.

This edition should also lose at least half a star for having the superscript for footnotes, but no notes anywhere. And a Penguin Modern Classic with no introduction either? Tut.

At least reading The Fall adds a retrospective extra layer of wit to Mark E. Smith’s rant/interview/autobiography Renegade - in which, likewise, a middle aged man talks in a pub about his philosophy of life and people he’s been a bastard to. ( )
  antonomasia | Jan 6, 2015 |
I found that in this book Camus explores the edges of existentialism. somewhat similar in what he did in the stranger, same sort of main character, expect this time the character feels some remose. he looks back on his life and feels regart ( )
  michaelbartley | Dec 13, 2014 |
This is an extraordinary novella. It takes a similar form to Mohsin Hamid's "The reluctant fundamentalist" (though of course Camus came first) - an extended monologue in which a man tells his life story to a stranger, and it addresses deep questions of philosophy, religion, atheism, judgment and morality.
One odd thing is that the new Penguin Classics edition has a number of footnote numbers but there are no notes corresponding to these. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 4, 2014 |
Disturbing, astute, disagreeable, and witty. It wasn't an "enjoyable" read for me, but overall, a great book. ( )
  AaronKappel | May 22, 2014 |
Over the last two days I have read this novel twice, not that difficult as it weighs in at just 107 pages in my penguin classic edition. After the first reading I felt I had read a masterpiece as Camus writes trenchantly again about the human condition, but just what I had read I couldn't be sure. The second reading gave me some answers but raised even more questions. The prose itself is superb and Camus gives us some key incidents in the book that act like rafts in a grey sea that has no horizon.

Camus opening paragraphs in all his novels have an immediacy that seem to grab the reader by the scruff of the neck and even if you are not sure where you are being lead you are fascinated by the experience. "May I, Monsieur offer my services without running the risk of intruding? and so starts a dialogue in which you the reader are the willing participant, but of course you can say nothing. Camus places his reader in a bar in Amsterdam; you are approached by Jean-Baptiste Clamence a fellow drinker who proceeds to tell you about his life, thoughts and beliefs while impressing on you that he is a most unreliable witness, because as you know, men are duplicitous beings. Jean-Baptiste's story unfolds over a five day period in which you and meet and drink with him in the bar, take a walk with him through old Amsterdam, accompany him on a trip to the Zuyderzee and finally attend him in his apartment. Towards the end of the novel it appears that you and Jean-Baptiste are strikingly similar, both Lawyers, a similar age, both worked in Paris etc until it appears that you could be the same person, and perhaps this is after all a monologue in which you the reader are the narrator.

The Fall is brilliantly structured as were Camus two previous novels [L'Etranger] and [The Plague] The central incident and the one that challenges Jean-Baptiste to the very core of his being occurs almost exactly mid way through the book. Jean-Baptiste is a successful lawyer, he is fit healthy and wealthy with the world seemingly at his feet when one night he crosses a bridge and notices a girl looking over into the canal; he notices the back of her neck cool and damp which stirs him, but he walks on. Fifty metres further along the quayside he hears a splash and knows immediately it is the sound of a body hitting the water, he hears a cry repeated several times but:

The silence that followed, as the night suddenly stood still, seemed interminable. I wanted to run and yet didn't move an inch. I was trembling. I believe from cold and shock. I told myself that I had to be quick and I felt an irresistible weakness steal over me. I have forgotten what I thought then. 'too late. too far.....' or something of the sort. I was still listening as I stood motionless. Then, slowly, in the rain, I went away. I told no one.

From this moment on it is a different sounding Jean-Baptiste that relates his story, he admits to losing the thread, his lucidity that he was known for has deserted him, he no longer has a circle of friends and admirers and Camus story at this point becomes strikingly less lucid. The reader/or Jean-Baptiste struggles with concepts that seem just out of reach. It is brilliantly evoked by the trip to the Zuydersee where the flaccid greyness of the sea and sky blurs the horizon. The final meeting takes place in the apartment where Jean-Baptiste has a fever and his thoughts have taken on an intensity that is missing from the first part of the book and religious vocabulary abounds.

Early on Jean-Baptiste describes Amsterdam's concentric canals as resembling the circles of hell, "the middle class hell of course, peopled with bad dreams" and the first part of the novel is a summing up of the human condition through the eyes of this successful lawyer, much of it is deeply ironical which can be gleaned from the name of the bar 'New Mexico' where the monologue takes place. Camus wit and wisdom are given free reign as he hits home again and again with barbed comments on modern life. However the real meat of the novel is contained in the second part and here the major themes emerge. Jean-Baptiste/you and me; is all about power and domination, which he had acquired as a successful man in Paris. After the incident on the bridge his craving for power is still part of his make-up but it has been shaken by his inability to take action to save the girl. Power he says comes from the ability to judge others and we are all guilty of some crime. If we can recognise and come to terms with this then we have a powerful lever over others and can sit in judgement over them. It is almost as though Camus/Jean-Baptiste is demanding that the reader confess to their own guilt as he takes on the persona of a judge-penitent. This is powerful stuff.

The title of the novel La Chute (the Fall) will immediately alert readers familiar with Christianity that the novel may be heavy with religious symbolism and it certainly is. However Camus' references are by no means obscure and in my opinion enhance the central theme of judgement so as to make it difficult to avoid. I talked earlier on about the superb structure of the novel and echoes and thoughts reflect backwards and forward creating a ripple effect similar to the water in the canals. This is an outstanding work of literature, a work that can be read over and over again and perhaps if you do that you might get to understand all of what Camus was expressing, but at the moment for me it is tantalisingly just out of reach. So typical of Camus. A five star read of course. ( )
6 vote baswood | Jan 15, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (31 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Albert Camusprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Buss, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maclaine Pont, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, JustinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Some were dreadfully insulted, and quite seriously, to have held up as a model such an immoral character as A Hero of Our Time; others shrewdly noticed that the author had portrayed himself and his acquaintances...A Hero of Our Time, gentlemen, is in fact a portrait but not of an individual; it is the aggregate of the vices of our whole generation intheir fullest expression. LERMONTOV
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May I, monsieur, offer my services without running the risk of intruding?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679720227, Paperback)

Elegantly styled, Camus' profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:59 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Elegantly styled, Camus' profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.

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