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The Plague (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 5 Dec 2002
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The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they are forced into quarantine. Each person responds in their own way to the lethal disease: some resign themselves to fate, some seek blame, and a few, like Dr. Rieux, resist the terror. An immediate triumph when it was published in 1947, "The Plague" is in part an allegory of France's suffering under the Nazi occupation, and a story of bravery and determination against the precariousness of human existence.
About the Author
French novelist, essayist, and playwright. Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a representative of non-metropolitan French literature. His origin in Algeria and his experiences there in the thirties were dominating influences in his thought and work. Among his works, The Plague (1947), The Just (1949) The Fall (1956). He was killed in a road accident in 1960. His last novel, The First Man, unfinished at the time of his death, appeared for the first time in 1994.
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First published in 1947, although popular it did have its detractors and made many ask awkward questions at their and other’s roles in the War, both because it defied the official position, and did not set out to condemn those who were collaborators. Since then this has always remained in print and has been admired by many.
Set in Oran in the Forties, so we can see this is an allegory of France and the way things went in the Second World War. That is the usual stance that people take with this, but in many ways this can be a bit simplistic, because you could argue that this takes in the Holocaust, and indeed any other situation where conditions occur that are outside of our control, such as the plague here, or even nowadays you could say Brexit.
Our narrator remains unidentified at the beginning of this, but we do know who it is by the end, although to be honest you should have worked out who it is long before then. Although set in Oran, the coastal town in Algeria we only hear from the white European community, thus reinforcing the purpose of this, and what the allegory refers to. With plague coming upon the town so the place has restrictions placed upon it and thus people are trapped in the town, separated from friends, family and loved ones.
So we follow the characters here as they come to certain decisions, and carry out these, and we see the consequences. With some biblical overtones so some of the characters’ attitudes alter, and thus the human condition is brought to life. Of course there are people who are in desperation and expect others to do any work, and there are others that have ideas and demands, but don’t actually want to do the hard work that these would create. And finally, we have those who just quietly get on with things, the heroes of this if you like, who are not after anything, but want to get things back to normal as quickly and efficiently as possible.
This always makes me think of this country, and what would happen with an epidemic. After all we were not ready for World War Two, although a EU Referendum was held there turned out to be no plans for leaving, and with the flu over the end of last year, hospitals found themselves overstretched. In all then this is well worth reading, and makes you ponder what you would do in times of trouble, and how you would help others – or not. Ambiguous in that no one is set up here as a hero, and in that there is no ultimate message, this is very thoughtful, and would make a good choice for book groups.
From a 21st century perspective, it's striking that there are no female characters. And no Arabs. That aside, I enjoyed revisiting this title.