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on 20 July 2010
As a dedicated 'Absurdist' I purchased numerous Albert Camus books. The Rebel and The Outsider (also called The Stranger) left me cold. I lost interest in the first few pages due to boredom. The Myth of Sisyphus is fascinating, although the first half is heavy going.
The Fall is outstanding. It was Camus's final work and his crowning achievement. Like Thomas Mann's brilliant Death in Venice, The Fall is short novella and not a word is wasted. In fact I would suggest that no novel need exceed 100 pages. I read the entire book in a day and it was wonderful. I intend reading it many times because it is truly multi-layered and the work of a brilliant mind. On two occasions I found myself laughing out loud at Camus's observations on life's absurdity.
I am unsure if The Fall was written as a play, but it is ideal for the stage because the entire narrative is delivered by its single character, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, who describes himself as a 'Judge-pentitent'. You might notice that Jean-Baptiste is a thinly disguised nom de guerre for John the Baptist. Camus has of course chosen this name for good reason as you will discover. Indeed everything in The Fall has deep and insightful meaning - including the name of the novel.
Clamence is a post-Lapsian (or is it Lapsarian) Parisian lawyer (a fallen angel) living out his days in Amsterdam where he defends criminals in order to sustain his love of gin at his favourite watering hole, a seedy bar called Mexico City. There he meets a visitor to whom he tells his story. And what a story it is!
A central theme of The Fall is Judgement and how quick we are all to judge others, but how we hate to be judged. Camus asks who has the right to judge anyone: inside and outside the law. Religion is also a theme and Camus reminds us that the founder of Christianity was actively non-jugemental but his followers, or at least those who claim to be, have severely judged others to the point of torture and mass murder.
The Fall is packed with metaphor and our Judge-penitent prefers at all times to be physically elevated, looking down on the human 'ants'. A metaphor for the moral high ground of the preacher or courtroom magistrate.
I hope you get the picture. Please read this work of genius. I am off to read it again!
JP (Lapsus) ;)
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on 25 March 2014
Camus was one of a number of post-war French writers who used the novel as a vehicle for their philosophy, using fiction to explore our place in the modern world. The story of 'The Fall', such as there is, unfolds not in actions or plot but in speech and the articulation of thoughts and ideas.

It consists of a monologue, spread across five days in Amsterdam and its environs, as the garrulous narrator Jean-Baptiste Clamance tells his story ("as soon as I open my mouth, the words pour out"). Clamance is a French exile who describes himself rather oddly as a "judge-penitent". Quite what he means by this will have to wait. He begins his monologue to an unnamed listener (the reader?) whom he meets in a sailor's bar he calls 'Mexico City' in the red-light district of Amsterdam and accompanies through the rain-soaked streets of the city at night. All the while he expounds his views on humanity, offering a jaded opinion of human freedom and liberty drawn from bitter experience. The monologue becomes a confessional, as though the narrator is overcome by a compulsion to speak, driven by a determination as dogged as that of the Ancient Mariner to tell his tale .

Camus wrote 'The Fall' in the mid-1950s and his setting is a Europe still recovering from the trauma of World War and preferring to forget the shocking events of that conflict. The world and mankind has descended into a Hell of its own making. The novel considers the question of how an intelligent person might formulate an intellectual response to such horrors, how to take any ethical stance in the face of absolute amorality.

'The Fall' is a short book, almost a novella, and just about sustains the narrative structure of a single character's monologue, which after a while can get somewhat wearing to read at length. In this edition, translator Robin Buss has captured the elegance of the author's pen, and Camus' writing - however bleak and pessimistic - is often poignant and beautiful, full of aphorisms and immensely quotable. The book was Camus' last finished work of fiction, published just four years before his death in a car accident in Villeblevin, northern France, on 4 January 1960.
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on 20 May 2015
Jean-Baptiste Clamence is the never-ending narrator of Albert Camus's novella The Fall (1956). It displays all the classic traits of a novella: spanning one night between two locations, with only two characters: Jean-Baptiste and 'the listener’. Camus’s creative genius has Jean-Baptiste narrate the story as a monologue. Camus’s craft of the monologue is superb, he makes the listener interact without talking having Jean-Baptiste repeat questions and react to the listener’s body language.

Searching for comparisons is best to head towards Samuel Beckett’s monologue Krapp's Last Tape (1958), which premiered only two years after The Fall. In literature, Moshin Hamid’s exquisite The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) draws on Camus’s novella. Hamid often states the influence it had on his story.

The Fall is a staggering book of amazement. The intellectual stuff didn’t so much as go over my head, as that I didn’t even notice it! The enjoyment of this novella is the incessant narration, the egotistical narrator and the skill in which Camus keeps a monologue nudging the reader to find out what will happen next. A triumph rarely done in literature, and if it has, never as successful as this.
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on 22 December 2010
Camus is often remembered for Sisyphus and The Outsider but this is his finest hour. This is the book that won him the Nobel prize and was also regarded by Sartre as his best piece of fiction. The Fall brings to fruition and refinement themes that Camus was groping for adequate expression in his earlier literary works. It was his last major work before his tragic early death at the age of forty-six.

The Fall recounts the story a barrister who gains a reputation as a virtuous and noble man who is always on the side of the underdog. He is feted by his peers and well known among the public at large but just at the peak of his career when he feels a sense of accomplishment with his achievements he has a sudden and shocking spiritual awakening through which he realizes that he is, in fact, an actor, a charlatan and, as he describes himself, a Pharisee. Thus by his own self-judgement he begins to fall from his position of social status because he is no longer able to believe in his formerly self-professed integrity. He has come to live in Amsterdam and is realizing his own salvation by confessing his tale to those who will listen.

This is a genuinely moving book whose motive is to explore what it means to be an authentically virtuous person. In doing so the author makes that quintessentially Christian observation that there is a wide gulf between taking care to create the impression that one is a good person and actually being a good person which takes humility and considerable effort to overcome a tendency towards egoistic self-aggrandizement. This book above all shows the deeply humane values at the heart of Camus' literary enterprise.
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on 15 October 2009
This powerful philosophical and psychological novel follows the story of one man's judicial dissection of his own motives and virtues revealing a shocking hypocrisy and ultimately causing a crisis of existence - a fall. As a way of finding some response to the absurdity of life and a need for confession to that which is greater than ourselves, the narrator of the story reveals his ultimate way of coping - as a judge penitent -giving up his freedom and drawing judgements of others through the confession of his own failings and accepting the meaninglessness of existence and the impossibility of truth and innocence. Not one for the "fun" section of your library.
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on 5 April 2009
"This, alas is what I am...but at the same time I hold out to my contemporaries a mirror."

You meet a man in a bar in Amsterdam and he tells you his life philosophy on slavery, freedom, religion, morality and love. Only it isn't you, but himself that he's talking to. Over five days and 100 pages, he goes over his thoughts and contemplates the guilt of seeing a girl jump into the Seine and not jump in after her.

This book is full of memorable lines and reminded me somewhat of Kierkegaard's 'Johannes Climacus' in that it's mostly just philosophical meanderings told through the thoughts of a fictional character. I once heard a Rabbi on transworld sport say "the best example is a living example." In contrast with that statement this book really doesn't stand for anything. But that's not the point.

Camus is a personal favourite and while I don't hold this work in as high a regard as The Plague or The Outsider, The Fall is still a good read.
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on 23 June 2009
My favourite and arguably Camus's most successfull portrayal of society's absurdities is such a short read - you can finish it in one sitting - but incredibly thought provoking. Following the initially charismatic, egocentric exploits of prominent lawyer Jean Baptiste Clemance and his subsequent fall into obscurity, alcoholism and isolation.
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on 19 April 2016
This is Camus at his best - is the judge-penitent a case of omnipotence in thought or does the judge pose real question other than his own psychopathology . This kindle edition has left in the end note numbers in the text but they do not appear at the end of the book ! Why?
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on 3 April 2014
The novel is excellent. Leaving that to one side - (who are we to review novels of this nature ?) I will briefly discuss the edition.

Firstly, the book itself is incredibly flimsy. The novel is short (just shy of 100pp) but that is not an excuse for an edition that looks like it came free with a Sunday newspaper. Penguin's dull editions have become a matter of serious irritation for me. Just because something is cheap doesn't mean it has to be ugly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 January 2014
Although I read this in French, thus making it harder for me to understand Camus's message yet also getting the benefit of the original language, I hope these comments may be of interest to those reading the book in the English translation.

Jean-Baptiste Clamence, his name a wordplay on "John the Baptist crying in the wilderness" buttonholes strangers in a seedy Amsterdam bar to tell them of his fall from grace as a successful Parisian lawyer to a man obsessed with his two-faced duplicity and his moral guilt worse in some ways than that of a common criminal. His psychological crisis has been triggered by another fall, that of a young woman into the Seine, whom he did nothing to save when he heard her cries. The question is, would he do any better if this incident were to be repeated?

The tale is full of digressions and twisted logic, witty, at times contradictory quotations. It is not surprising that there are differing, often opposed or confusing, interpretations of this philosophical fable, based on the ideas of absurdism, defined as the conflict between the human desire to find value and meaning in life and the inability to find it. A fascinating issue raised by Camus is how to lead a moral life if one is unable to believe in a god, but all attempts to make rules about right and wrong are arbitrary.

Having read some passages two or three times, I am still working to understand this book. For me it is a satire in which Clamence goes off the rails at the end as a kind of crazy, manic devil in a magnificently written final section. My take is that Clamence is on the wrong track with his desire to judge and control. The ability to accept one's own inevitable shortcomings is clearly key, but what if one is given to the level of excess of the highly self-indulgent and unlikeable Clamence?

One's understanding of this book is clearly increased by some knowledge of Christianity and the alternatives of communism, humanism and existentialism all of which Camus seems to lambast at some point, along with bourgeois complacency. This begs the question as to how much a truly great book should have some self-evident meaning without the aid of this knowledge. It seems to me that Camus was still working ideas out for himself in this book, and that at the end some were still incomplete.
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