The Plague, Albert Camus
Monday, October 23, 2017
I first read The Plague when I was in high school. In discussing the book in my senior English seminar, I “discovered” existentialism, and it was heady stuff. I didn’t read Camus again for forty years but recently decided to re-read The Plague. I was apprehensive. Could it live up to my memory? Had I liked it just because I was an impressionable teenager? Would it seem dated now? What should I make of what I now knew to be Camus’s rejection of the label existentialist? Despite the doubts, I plunged in. I was surprised that I remembered some of the passages—the blue dome of sky beginning to sizzle, the incorrigible sorrow of prisoners and exiles, the man standing on the shore, empty-handed and sick at heart— and I remembered the plot and the message. But this time, I paid more attention to Camus’s craft, and I was amazed. His physical description is more than just description; it conveys meaning and emotion. His seemingly simple words and sentences contain profound thoughts, both troubling and oddly comforting. The book did not disappoint; it was better than I remembered. And I’m guessing that Geraldine Brooks was also impressed, as she pays tribute to The Plague in her excellent book, Year of Wonders.