My phone camera really struggled with the weird silvery dotty cover of this books….

When I was trying to decide what I’d read for the #1956Club, I had “The Fall” by Albert Camus on the pile of books I owned, but I don’t think I really intended to pick it up. However, after powering through the wonderful Christie, I wanted a little space before embarking on the Ed McBain; and it struck me that the Camus is very slim so possibly wouldn’t take *too* long to read. Plus I could remember absolutely nothing about it from my first read, which was possibly in the 1990s! So needless to say, it came off the shelf! “The Fall” was Camus’ final completed novel (my edition is translated by Justin O’Brien) and should by length really be termed as a novella. However, for its length it’s a complex work throwing up any number of ideas, and although I read it quickly, the concepts it raised are lingering on…

I sometimes think of what future historians will say of us. A single sentence will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.

Taking the form of a series of monologues, the book is narrated by a man who calls himself Jean-Baptiste Clamence. Formerly a high-profile Parisian lawyer, he now finds himself adrift in Amsterdam, a habituee of a bar called Mexico City and a self-titled “judge-advocate”. A chance encounter with another man in the bar leads to him embarking on his life story – and dark reading it can make. Clamence was a self-assured, successful man; regarding himself as above the rest of humanity, he prided himself on his charity, his achievements and most importantly, how he appeared to others. However, his seemingly impermeable exterior is pricked one day – he walks away from a dramatic event, and ever after appears to hear mocking laughter wherever he goes. His self-image is ruined, and his fall from grace is not far away…

Ah, this dear old planet! All is clear now. We know ourselves; we now know of what we are capable.

As I said above, this *is* quite a complex work, though I found it very readable. Clamence is not a pleasant narrator; his arrogance and hypocrisy are quite repellent, and yet Camus has written him so wonderfully that you can’t help but follow him as his life descends into debauchery and finally he retreats to the lowlands of Amsterdam. His character gradually reveals itself, and the clever narrative, with Clamence’s responses often intimating the unheard part of the conversation, leads to a brilliant ending with unexpected implications for his conversational companion.

So we are steaming along without any landmark; we can’t gauge our speed. We are making progress and yet nothing is changing. It’s not navigation but dreaming.

There are, of course, religious overtones to the story, with the life of Clamence perhaps representing a secular version of the Fall of Man. Certainly, his behaviour leads the reader to judge him; but then, maybe *we* are not in a position to judge either? The constant reiteration of height – Clamence preferring things like mountain peaks to the top decks of boats – supports this reading of the story. And of course Amsterdam is itself below sea level, constantly damp and foggy, so a deliberately symbolic choice of location.

I found nothing but superiorities in myself and this explained my goodwill and serenity. When I was concerned with others, it was out of pure condescension, in utter freedom, and all the credit went to me: my self-esteem would go up a degree.

“The Fall” really was a fascinating, if dark, read; Clamence is in the end a cold, detached character reminding me somewhat of Meursault from “The Outsider” (Camus does seem to excel at those, although the cast of “The Plague” are somewhat more human). His cynical attitude, however, often shows cracks and it’s obvious he’s haunted by a guilt he seems unable to acknowledge, a guilt caused by the results of his moral passivity and unwillingness (or inability) to act.

As I said, I hadn’t intended to read this for our club week, but I’m so glad I did. I’ve re-read both “The Outsider” and “The Plague” in recent years and been happy to rediscover what a wonderful writer Camus was. “The Fall” is perhaps a little neglected in comparison to those two works, but it really does warrant careful reading for its explorations of what it means to be human, how much we hate to be mocked or judged, and yet how much worse is the way in which we judge ourselves. A wonderful book and one of my highlights for 1956! 😀