There are certain broad brush statements you can make about foreign literature based on selected reading and if you read some 20th century American novels you could easily walk away believing that issues of race and class dominate and if you read Albert Camus and Louis-Ferdinand Celine then questions of identity and social interaction are obviously important to French authors.
To illustrate this case you only have to read The Fall by Camus to discover a story about the change in social position of a man who fell from wealth and influence becoming a cynical bar room philosopher.
The main character – in fact the only one who speaks – Jean-Baptiste Clamence is a lawyer who had it all, success, women and wealth but a laugh in the night and a growing sense of paranoia undo him and lead him to end up in a Amsterdam recounting his fall and the hypocrisy that had sustained him prior to it. For instance he examines why he helped an old lady across the road and concludes it was for his own sense of well-being and in case he was seen rather than a genuinely charitable act.
Is it well written?
It is written as a conversation that happens over several nights between two men in the legal profession in a number of bars in Amsterdam. After a while the style of monologues with references to prompts from the silent party does start to tire and some of the speeches can go on for a bit. Although you hear the silent voice through questions you do start to yearn for another voice and some proper dialogue. I am not unaware that of course the point of the style might have been to show how introspective and paranoid the principle character has become.
Is it worth reading?
Interestingly this is not listed as one of the works in 1001 Books to Read before you die that should be read by Camus. I can see why, because it is a book that seems trapped in a style and is a moral about pride and vanity that is not totally satisfactory because Jean-Baptiste Clamence goes from apparent good deeds to a drunk reprobate because having been laughed at he in some ways wants to laugh back at society. Read it as part of an exploration of Camus but opt for The Outsider first, if you are new to the author.
More Camus, The Outsider, The Plague or perhaps novels looking to write about philosophical subjects, I can’t really list any because that is not an area I am too familiar with.
Version Read – Penguin circa 1963