Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Plague

The Plague by    Albert Camus
Wikipedia entry
Nobel Biography
Camus Society Web Page

Sadly, this book is no longer on the Harvard Bookstore's list of Top 100 Books, although his eerie The Stranger  remains on the list. I have to say I'm a little disappointed by the demotion of The Plague it's a beautifully written tale of love and loss.  

First the rats begin to die and then the people in a quiet town by the sea. Slowly the townsfolk are forced to overcome their denial and accept that somehow the plagues is in their midst. Coming to terms with isolation, death, the way their world changes as it shrinks as well as the changes in themselves as they adapt to their new situation leaves a reader rapt, following along and feeling what it must be like for this group of people.

The main character in the story, a doctor, is such a great man. His story is so compelling. He is kind, rational, compassionate and non-judgmental.  His relationships with a wide variety of characters, his patients and neighbors is clearly and convincingly detailed.

Camus leaves out the misunderstandings and unexpressed thoughts that can be so frustrating. I'm usually bothered by all the things that should have been said but weren't in books.  It's such a common ploy that I assumed it must be the best way to move a story along.  Here, all of the characters clearly convey their thoughts and feelings and it is so refreshing and satisfying to see.

As the town is cut off from the outside world and the citizens are struck down by this horrible illness and the sure death that accompanies it, the sparseness of their lives is realistically portrayed. They first have to come to terms with the reality of this disease. Then they must consider their own mortality and the possibility that they will watch many of their friends and loved ones die. That isolation is coupled with the fear that those same friends, loved ones and neighbors could possibly infect and therefore, kill them.  Then there is the isolation from the rest of the world as the town closes off contact by closing their borders. No mail, no supplies or goods come in and no visitors can get out. Any townspeople who were away when this started cannot return to their homes to be with their families and friends throughout this frightening ordeal.

When at last the crisis is over, what remains of the town has to resume something like normalcy, whatever that may be.  The survivors have so much to come to terms with, like the loss of their freedoms and luxuries, as well as their loved ones. They have to deal with life in their altered, post-plague world.

Everyone should read this book. It is a marvel of modern literature.  Strangely, the plague, a word synonymous with mass death, would be nothing more than a nuisance today.  In fact, our most basic antibiotics can swiftly destroy it.  Of course, we've replaced that with new and far more hearty diseases. And, for your edification, here is a clip about the bubonic plague, as told by Remy, the rat from Pixar's Ratatouille.

1 comment:

Judy Krueger said...

You speak truly about what a great piece of literature this is because it is not really about the plague, it is about people. Now we fear killer viruses but should one come along, this is a good handbook for what to expect from your neighbors and associates.