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The First Man's Last Book...
on 15 July 2003
Having read a number of other books by Camus, such as The Fall, The Outsider, A Happy Death, and The Plague, I thought I'd try my luck here, although on picking up the book, I was a little put off at first...
Primarily, it must be noted that the book in question, The First Man, was not finished by Camus. Indeed, on reading the prologue by his daughter, Catherine Camus, we find that the manuscript of this incomplete work was found with the author in the car which he died in following an accident. Consequently, on reading the actual text, there are many footnotes to aid the reader, almost on every page, pointing out that a certain character's name has changed, or that Camus had made a mistake which he had not got round to changing before his death, etc.
Secondly, we find that The First Man, although not an autobiography, is, by and large, autobiographical in relation to the content with regards to the author's own life. However, we only reach the stage of Jacques Cormery's life (ie. Camus), where he is near to completing his education at the lycée in Algiers, and consequently we do not have the blistering accounts of how he was to travel to France under German occupation to aid the Resistence, or of when his literary fame came into being.
So, with all this in mind, why have I given this 5 stars- Why read The First Man?
Firstly, this is a touching book, and although sadly much was not written due to the author's untimely death in 1960, he did manage to get a lot down about his birth in a mall village in Algeria under French rule, about his Franco-Spanish ancestry, about the seering heat of the African sun hanging over the sand and sea of the Mediterranean in the 1920's. We feel the pleasures of a poor family, their hopes and fears and dreams, and share funny glimpses of everyday life (like uncle Ernest picking flees off his dog). We see the playground fights, the tensions between the Arabs and Europeans in the streets and desert, and the daily struggle to survive in general. The characters are real, and the scenary too is brought to life, and this book (even unfinished it has 260 pages) is a real page- turner.
This edition also has, at the 'end', a section of Camus' notes, showing how the novel would have developed, and a picture soon emerges, confirming the readers suspicions from the start that, on visiting his dead father's grave (he had been killed in World War One, when Camus was just one), the author is looking for a man he does not know and will never know; it is not his father, but himself.
One thing I think should be pointed out too, which is not evident at first, is that this edition also includes two letters, one from, and one to, the author's former teacher, who had helped this poor, small wretch of a boy to discover himself, and to gain a proper education, and to go on to become one of the towering figures in world literature in the twentieth century. Both these letters, with thanks and advice, are humbling, and add enormously to what is a blistering and emotive read. Excellent!