The Plague by Albert Camus | Review

I’ve read depressing literature before, I really have.  But The Plague pretty much trumps all of it (absolutely no pun intended there!).  Thankfully, this is the last one of these humanistic authors I had to read; so hopefully I’ll soon be able to review some of the books I actually enjoyed!

It all starts with the rats.  Dr. Rieux is at first mildly annoyed by the appearance of dead rats in his apartment building; but when they start turning up all over the town of Oran, in greater and greater numbers, he becomes increasingly disturbed.  Several days later they disappear; but on the exact same day he’s called to the home of his door-porter, who’s been taken ill with a strange fever.  The poor man dies; but his is not the only case.

As the death-toll of this mysterious illness rises, Dr. Rieux and his colleagues are forced to admit that it is indeed the bubonic plague.  The town is quarantined, and the plague continues to take its toll.  The number of victims rises every day.

Sometimes you open a book and step into a world of magic, adventure, peril, or simple quiet beauty.  When you open The Plague, you step into the town of Oran – the center of a world of hopelessness.  The inhabitants of Oran, cut off from loved ones and their lives before, have literally nothing to live for except the distant hope that the plague might end.  A major theme of the book is that of exile.  Oran is completely cut off, and its people are alone with their sorrow.

“…since the order of the world is shaped by death, mightn’t it be better for God if we refuse to believe in Him, and struggle with all our might against death, without raising our eyes towards the heaven where He sits in silence?” – The Plague

Camus was an excellent author.  In many ways, he was almost too good.  You can feel the despair of the town; you can see the victims in their grotesque suffering; you can hear their cries, the clanging of the ambulances day and night, the occasional gunshots as citizens riot at the gates of the town.  The various characters become vividly real – Rieux, determined to fight the disease though he knows there’s nothing he can do; Grand, the small man who steps in to fight as hard as he can, while eternally working on the first sentence of his novel; Tarrou, desperate for peace but knowing he’ll never find it.  Knowing them so well makes the suffering and despair even more real.

Camus was severely humanistic.  Naturally, then, the near complete hopelessness of The Plague was simply an outworking of his worldview.  One of the most important scenes of the book is when Tarrou explains to the doctor that everyone has the plague.

“I have realized that we all have plague, and I have lost my peace.” – The Plague

The problem is, there’s no way to find peace.  There is literally no meaning to the world in which Camus lived, and The Plague reflects that dramatically.

//Content: several uses of the d-word, along with others.  It can be a little graphic sometimes, specifically with the plague victims.  Some mild sexual references.//

Have you ever read The Plague?  What do you think about epidemic/killer disease books?  Any favorites?

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