Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Fall by Albert Camus (5/5) [re-read]

The back says: Mordant, brilliant, elegantly styled, The Fall is a novel of the conscience of modern man in the face of evil. In a seedy bar in Amsterdam, Clamence, an expatriate Frenchman, indulges in a calculated confession. He recalls his past life as a respected Parisian lawyer, a champion of noble causes, and, privately, a libertine – yet one apparently immune to judgement. As his narrative unfolds, ambiguities amass; every triumph reveals a failure, every motive a hidden treachery. The irony of his recital anticipates his downfall – and implicates us all.

Translated by Justin O'Brien.

I say: This is one of my favourite novels ever in life, and it contains some of my favourite quotes that I am desperate to get inked sometime in the future. Words cannot describe how ridiculously giddy I get every time I hear this mentioned. It’s weird writing reviews of re-reads because it feels like I’m repeating myself, and I’m never quite sure what to focus on since the review can never quite be objective at this point in time.

However, I am going to try to write a somewhat lucid review and fail miserably.

As always with Camus’ work, people take different things away with them and every time I re-read this I focus on different quotes or passages depending on what state of mind I’m in at the time. “The Fall” refers to Clamence’s fall from being a successful lawyer in Paris to a man who helps strangers order gin in a bar in Amsterdam. The novel is written as if he is having a conversation with the reader, talking about his life and taking him on walks around Amsterdam, and the brilliance of this novel lies in the fact that Clamence continuously contradicts himself. He keeps referring to himself as a “judge-penitent” blurring the lines between his own personal guilt and the collective guilt of mankind.

“[...] I stand before all humanity recapitulating my shames without losing sight of the effect I am producing, and saying “I was the lowest of the low.” Then imperceptibly I pass from the “I” to the “we.” When I get to “This is what we are,” the trick has been played and I can tell them off. I am like them, to be sure; we are in the soup together. However, I have a superiority in that I know it and this gives me the right to speak. You see the advantage, I am sure. The more I accuse myself, the more I have a right to judge you. Even better, I provoke you into judging yourself, and this relieves me of that much of the burden.” – p 140

Ultimately Clamence doesn’t want to be judged, because he doesn’t want to live with the guilt. It is for this reason that he is confessing all his sins (being penitent) and at the same time condemning you for yours (being judge); he can now go on living as he has before knowing that as long as he continues to confess his sins he will be absolved of them. He then goes on to discuss the cost of freedom and how man has the need to choose a master (whether god or something else) so as not to feel alone.

Really, there is just too much packed into this short novel, and I am struggling to condense it all in a neat review – and failing miserably.

Camus just works my brain into state of intense frenzy.

I should probably point out that the beginning of Clamence’s fall is that he one night hears a woman fall into the water and doesn’t jump in to save her; an incidence that continues to haunt him and results in him declaring:

“I never cross a bridge at night. It’s the result of a vow. Suppose, after all, that someone should jump in the water. One of two things – either you do likewise to fish him out and, in cold weather, you run a great risk! Or you forsake him there and suppressed dives sometimes leave one strangely aching.” – p 15

Although I love that quote it is the words of someone who is afraid of risks and consequences; someone who’d rather play things safe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – I think we all think that way from time to time – it’s just that when you get to the end of the book you realise that Clamence is essentially a coward; and he thinks that we all are cowards. The only difference is that he admits to it.

“’Oh young woman, throw yourself into the water again so that I may a second time have the chance of saving both of us!’ A second time, eh, what a risky suggestion! Just suppose, cher maître, that we should be taken literally? We’d have to go through with it. Brr...! The water’s so cold! But let’s not worry! It’s too late now. It will always be too late. Fortunately!” – p 147

I get goose bumps every time I read that.

And that bleakness is one of my favourite quotes, and the reason I shall continue to re-read this masterpiece.

*This is my seventeenth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).


  1. I think the only Camus that I've read it The Stranger. I think he's definitely an author that I have to be in a certain mood for. It definitely wouldn't be summer read for me!

    1. I love The Stranger/The Outsider - another one of my all-time favourite books that I re-read once a year. And yes, I also have to be in a certain mood for Camus because he makes me think, and sometimes I just want to get lost in a story where a bird is just a bird and not a symbol of something else.

  2. Excellent post. I've only recently read this, despite being a long-time admirer of Camus and I really enjoyed it. It's taking me a while to unpick the meaning behind much of it, but I'm enjoying the challenge. Reading others thoughts on it is really helping with that :)

    My latest post:Review: The Fall by Albert Camus