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?