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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 3 May 2015

"The Plague" by Albert Camus

A doctor in the Algerian city of Oran notices rats dying in the streets. Before too long, he and his colleagues are recording mysterious deaths. When the authorities realise that there is bubonic plague in town they seal off the city. Immediately, people are cut off from their loved ones, the doctor from his wife who is being treated for TB in a sanatorium; the only communication allowed being the telegram. And in the sealed off city, the death toll rises.

The reactions of the doomed inhabitants is recorded faithfully (not so faithful is the medical details; by the time of the setting it was known that bubonic plague isn't spread from person to person so quarantine is unnecessary and there were reasonably effective anti-plague serums). The narrative concentrates on a small group of acquaintances:

  • Dr Rieux who keeps plugging away at his job despite that he never heals anyone and the prophylactic measures he applies are of doubtful use;
  • Cottard who attempts suicide before the plague strikes but then flourishes on the fringes of the black market and the people smuggling trade;
  • Rambert who spends much of his time trying to find a way to escape the city;
  • Grand the clerk who has been repeatedly denied promotion and whose hobby is to write a novel whose first sentence he endlessly repolishes;
  • Tarrou who is the secular conscience of the group;
  • Father Paneloux the priest who, in a hell-raising sermon, tells the people that the plague is punishment for their sins (he likens the city to Sodom) although he dilutes this later after watching an 'innocent' ten year old boy dies

and there are a host of thoroughly believable minor characters as well. Although there are no Arabs. None at all. They don't even die.

Camus has a brilliant dead-pan style. He writes journalism although the point is to explore morality.  The full horror of the pestilence is given through the small details: the cinemas are full although they only have the same films which they show again and again; prison warders who die are recommended for the military medal but the military authorities object so a plague medal is proposed instead but it doesn't work because it is too easy to get. And I loved the explanation of the various ways in which a bureaucrat can say no.

This is a beautifully written and thought-provoking novel. But why no Arabs?

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