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The Fall (original 1956; edition 2007)
by Albert Camus (Author)
The Fall by Albert Camus (Author) (1956)
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A promising work. The first half is camus at his strongest. His description of the "upstanding avocat" is reminiscent of the "Lovers" prefaces in The Peste (the strongest sections in that work), and contains the promise of subtle insight to follow. Unfortunately camus doesn't make good on this.
The self-description of the soi-disant "virtuous person" already contains some not-so-subtle hints of its collapse (most prominent in association with the narrators adoration for Height: being at the top, looking down, etc. - such imagery isn't difficult to parse) and this is fine. From there it would be sufficient to develop these flaws and thereby follow to the end the trajectory of such an above-average person - an idea for a passable work. Had he more courage, camus would have instead given him an "abnormal psychology" which, perfect in its virtue, anticipates its own demise and rejects it, finally succumbing to a clever dialectical turn in which the virtuous narrator approximates himself to a higher categorial virtue and annihilates himself (a kind of "Johannes de Silentio" figure - though dealing with "Judge William"-type questions). Camus has patience for neither of these approaches.
Quite simply, he has the narrator enter "existential" proximity with "the truth", after which he immediately becomes the insecure, idealistic, strangely young character who is the precise self-image of the "disillusioned" (and almost invariably male) lycée readers who have come to admire this author so very much. From there we get a few tiresome ideas such as:
"I learned what life is really like and realized I was a hypocrite to be held in such high esteem, and so I began acting out precisely to fall in these graces and become who I really am." (this is what teens like to imagine they are doing when they act out)
"Once I realized other people could judge me I lost the assurance of my character and became insecure" (coincidentally the teenager is also just discovering that other people have thoughts too)
"As a 'judge-penitant' I am actually the most clever person in the room because, with my dialectical approach, I am able to convince my interlocutor to divulge their deepest inadequacies while, really, I risk nothing. They are affected, but I am right and shall never change." (this one speaks for itself)
That said, the prose, even in translation, is not bad, and the work also has the virtue of brevity - take note.
Fall from Grace
Review of the Recorded Books audiobook edition (2018) narrated by Edoardo Ballerini of the translation by Justin O'Brien of the French language original "La Chute" (1956)
The Fall was another classic that I picked up from Audible's recent $3 to $5 titles sale, especially due to it being narrated by Edoardo Ballerini, whom I have always found to be a very reliable voice performer. I'll confess that I have not read very much Camus previously, beyond The Stranger, and a collection of plays. My recent read of Patti Smith's Dedication (2017) (read in Estonian as "Pühendumus" (2022)), which included her trip to Camus' home and grave, was another sign, as I'll often select a next read based on a suggestion from a previous one.
See cover at https://i.pinimg.com/originals/7c/7e/6a/7c7e6aece3828c84c678fa8b9da5da32.jpg
The cover of the first English language edition "The Fall" (1957) translated by Justin O'Brien and published by Hamish Hamilton. Image sourced from Pinterest.
As anticipated, the narration performance was excellent, with Ballerini adding the attraction of a charismatic companion which is rather essential to understand why a stranger would listen to another person's monologues for an extended number of days. The story starts with the visitor encountering Jean-Baptiste Clamence in a bar called Mexico City in the heart of Amsterdam. The visitor gradually hears Clamence's life story, which tells his tale of descent from being a respected Parisian lawyer to an awakening knowledge of his hypocrisy, and then an abandonment of conventional life.
I was looking up further background on The Fall and found that the extended essay on English Wikipedia was enormously informative (spoilers obviously if you click through). It especially brings home the point that Amsterdam's canal system can be viewed as similar to the circles of Hell in Dante's Inferno and that the bar Mexico City (which was an actual real-life location) is then situated in a place symbolic of the innermost last circle of Hell.
I'd certainly recommend the English Wikipedia summary as an Afterword, especially if your edition of The Fall lacks an Introduction or Other Notes, as this one does.
See photograph at https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/af/Amsterdam_airphoto.jpg...
Aerial photograph of Amsterdam showing its canal system. Image sourced from Wikipedia.
The narrator is in a pub in Amsterdam and tells his life story to one of the other customers.
The book consists of a monologue, since we don’t directly hear anything the listener says, though we understand that he does say a few things.
The narrator calls himself Jean-Baptiste Clamence and is what he terms a “judge-penitent”. I don’t know what he means by this. But on the net I found the following explanation:
“Judging himself and judging you are actually the same thing. That's what it means to be a judge-penitent: (he confesses his own sins (he is penitent), while condemning you for yours (he is the judge)”.
He tells the listener that he used to be a defence lawyer who “specialized in good causes”, in defending “”victims”.
He has a good appearance and could “strike a noble pose”, He had the satisfaction of being on the right side in court.
He was beyond reproach in his professional life and never took bribes. He refused the Legion of Honour several times and never made a poor client pay.
He used to help blind men across the street and liked to give to beggars.
Being polite was a great joy to him. He derived pleasure from giving.
At night he went out dancing to the point of fatigue.
He tells his new ”friend”. “People are two-faced: they cannot love unless they love themselves.
The two agree to meet in the pub every day, so Jean-Baptiste can continue his story.
“I felt as though I was partly unlearning what I had never learned and yet knew so well: I mean, how to live.”
He talks about how servitude, preferably with a smile, is unavoidable.
He admits to being supremely vain. He has never been able to speak without boasting. He has always considered himself more intelligent than anyone, but also more sensitive and more skilled, and the best lover.
He saw only superiority in himself, in everything.
He had an astonishing ability to forget.
Everything “slid over” him.
He lived from day to day.
”Women, from one day to the next.” “All those friends hardly loved, those cities hardly visited and those women hardly possessed!”
Should women be possessed? (My comment)
His memory came back, unpleasant memories like being attacked by a motorcyclist, and someone calling him “You pathetic creature”.
He states: “Every intelligent man --- dreams of being a gangster and ruling over society by violence alone” (!!)
There were “sweet dreams of oppression” within him.
He found out that he was on the side of the guilty, the defendants, only to the extent that their crime did not cause any harm to him.
He reveals that he has always been a success with women, without trying too hard. He was always considered charming and attractive and made the most of it.
He loved women, which meant that he never loved any one of them.
I won’t reveal the content of the book any further, but will say that I found it difficult to understand, and this seems to be the general point of view.
Camus states elsewhere that what Jean-Baptiste says is not a confession but an account of the times””.
The book is excellently written, very readable and absorbing.
Shortly after the publication of the book Camus was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not bad for a man whose mother was illiterate and had difficulty in communicating orally. Camus must have received many genes for brilliance and communication from his father, who was killed in World War 1 when Albert was less than a year old.
A short story that bears rereading to get the gist of the plot, a tale of depth where more is happening than what is going on the surface. Also a healthy knowledge of the Bible will illuminate a lot.
Belongs to Publisher Series
Is contained in
Coffret Oeuvres complètes, volumes 3 et 4 by Albert Camus (indirect)
Has as a student's study guide
Elegantly styled, Camus' profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)843.914 — Literature French French fiction Modern Period 20th Century 1945-1999
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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.
Really recommend it. ( )