Isolation read #6

Published in 1947, a stone cold classic. The language may be a bit fusty for our times but the vision is piercing and the lessons as valid as at any time since then. Ostensibly a fictional account of an outbreak of bubonic plague in the Algerian port town of Oran, it is an allegory for the rise of Nazism.

Camus is devastatingly sharp on the inertia of bureaucracy, the sheeplike willingness of the mass of people to believe the easy lie over the difficult truth, or rather, the truth that means they will not have to change their ways of living to some detriment to themselves: a pigheaded insistence on ‘my right as a free man’ to do as I please, even in the face of communal disaster.

There is always admirable control and economy of expression in his writing but what strikes you in this novel, above all, is Camus’ essential humanity: this is the thing that gives the book its stature, that lifts it above the also-rans: he describes the heartbreak of lovers separated by the ‘closing of the city gates’, and the devastation of a family helplessly watching a child die in agony, and you cannot help but emphasise.

An intensely powerful read

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