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The Fall by Albert Camus

The Fall (original 1956; edition 1991)

by Albert Camus (Author)

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7,809801,115 (3.89)1 / 178
Elegantly styled, Camus' profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.
Title:The Fall
Authors:Albert Camus (Author)
Info:Vintage Books (1991), 147 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Fall by Albert Camus (Author) (1956)


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 Literary Centennials: Camus - The Fall - discussion4 unread / 4baswood, January 2014

» See also 178 mentions

English (66)  French (5)  Spanish (3)  Danish (2)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Portuguese (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (80)
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
You are in a crowded subterranean bar in Amsterdam, trying unsuccessfully to attract the attention of the barman, when a stranger comes to your assistance. Confident and friendly, he introduces himself as Jean-Baptiste Clamence, and proceeds to tell you his life story. Because you are the ‘you’ who is addressed throughout The Fall, a silent witness to Clamence’s confession. He explains how he used to be a successful Parisian defence lawyer, a champion of the poor and oppressed, a good liberal and a happy man with many friends and admirers. But that was before the fall. Now he lives amongst criminals, in self-exile in Amsterdam with its concentric canals ‘like the circles of hell’. A self-styled ‘judge-penitent’ he spends his time confessing his sins to the strangers he meets in the seedy bars he frequents.

Philosophical meditation, dramatic monologue and authorial confession disguised as a novel; The Fall is all of these. It’s certainly a technical tour de force and Clamence’s monologue is sustained with great skill. Camus’ collapsing of the fourth wall produces an effect at first intimate and eventually uncomfortably claustrophobic. ‘You’ are dragged involuntarily into the novel and left hopelessly implicated in its narrator’s testimony. Clamence is the most seductive stranger ‘you’ ever encountered in a sleazy bar: elegantly epigrammatic, sardonically witty and beguilingly lyrical. He is also not so much a man who has lost his innocence as one who has made the shattering discovery that he was guilty all along. He is at once confessor of his own sins and accuser of all humanity. Is he unusually candid or unutterably manipulative? Truth-teller or sophist? ‘You’ be the judge.

Clamence ‘is the talking voice that runs on’ (as Stevie Smith said of her alter-ego Pompey Casmilus in Novel on Yellow Paper). He rattles around your brain for ninety-odd pages raising endless questions about our old friend the human condition. Are altruism and egotism the same thing? Do we like to judge others to avoid being judged ourselves? Are we all guilty? Camus leaves any possible answers to ‘you’, the reader. ( )
  gpower61 | Sep 6, 2023 |
By far my favorite book of his that I've read. I specially love the format: a conservation that we can only read one part of, though the narration tells you enough that you can fill in the answers of the other side by mere context cues.
Really recommend it. ( )
  icallithunger | Jan 16, 2023 |
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. ( )
  Joe.Olipo | Nov 26, 2022 |
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. ( )
  alanteder | Jun 17, 2022 |
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. ( )
  IonaS | Jun 4, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
"La caída" de Albert Camus es una novela filosófica en forma de monólogo dramático. El protagonista, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, es un antiguo abogado parisino que confiesa la historia de su vida y su caída moral a un oyente anónimo en un sórdido bar de Ámsterdam.

Clamence comienza como un abogado de éxito y moralmente recto, pero sufre una profunda transformación tras una crisis personal. Se convierte en una figura distante y cínica que ve la vida a través de la lente del existencialismo. La novela explora temas como la culpa, la responsabilidad y la condición humana.

Clamence reflexiona sobre sus propios fallos morales y la hipocresía de la sociedad. Se presenta a sí mismo como un juez-penitente, alguien que reconoce sus propios pecados y busca el reconocimiento de los demás. La narración sirve de crítica al vacío moral de la sociedad moderna y a la evasión de la responsabilidad personal por parte de los individuos.

"La caída" es una obra compleja e introspectiva que ahonda en los fundamentos filosóficos del existencialismo, abordando cuestiones como la autenticidad, las relaciones humanas y la naturaleza de la culpa. La novela invita a los lectores a contemplar los retos de vivir una vida auténtica y con sentido en un mundo aparentemente indiferente.

» Add other authors (29 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Camus, AlbertAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Meister, Guido G.Translatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buss, RobinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maclaine Pont, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mattauch, AlfredIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Brien, JustinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stuart, GilbertTranslatorsecondary 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?
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
L'Olanda è un sogno, caro signore, un sogno d'oro e di fumo, più fumoso di giorno e più dorato di notte, e giorno e notte questo sogno è popolato di Lohengrin come questi, che trascorrono in sogno su nere biciclette dagli alti manubri, cigni neri che girano senza tregua per tutto il paese, intorno ai mari, lungo i canali.
Io riprendevo forza e poi la riperdevo. La vita diventava meno facile: quando il corpo è triste, il cuore langue. Mi sembrava di disimparare in parte quello che non avevo mai imparato e che tuttavia sapevo così bene: vivere, voglio dire.
Gliel'ho detto, si tratta di sfuggire al giudizio. Siccome sfuggirvi è difficile, mentre riuscire a far ammirare e insieme scusare la propria natura è buona creanza, cercano tutti di essere ricchi. Perché? Se lo è mai chiesto? Per essere potenti, certo. Ma soprattutto perché la ricchezza sottrae al giudizio immediato, ti libera dalla folla della metropolitana per chiuderti in una carrozzeria nichelata, isola in vasti parchi ben custoditi, vetture letto, cabine di lusso. La ricchezza, caro amico, non è ancora l'assoluzione, è la condizionale, che fa sempre comodo.
Fatto sta che, dopo lunghi studi su me stesso, ho scoperto la duplicità profonda della creatura. Allora, a furia di frugare nella memoria, ho capito che la modestia mi aiutava a brillare, l'umiltà a vincere e la virtù ad opprimere. Facevo la guerra con mezzi pacifici, e alla fine, per mezzo del disinteresse, ottenevo ciò che agognavo.
Ma di nuovo trovai un ostacolo in me stesso. Questa volta fu il fegato, insieme ad una stanchezza così grande che ancora me la porto dietro. Uno gioca a fare l'immortale, e in capo a qualche settimana non sa nemmeno più se potrà strascicarsi fino al giorno dopo.
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Elegantly styled, Camus' profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.

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