notes on albert camus' "the fall"

2021-04-07

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~4 min read

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675 words

I knew that Albert Camus’ novel The Fall would be a tough read, but I don’t think I knew how tough. I first heard about the novel, which explores the fall of a lawyer who years ago was an esteemed lawyer and falls from grace after witnessing a suicide and doing nothing about it (other than actively avoid doing anything about it).

This feels a bit like Waiting For Godot in the sense that there’s so much going on in that I don’t think I caught half of it or appreciated a quarter of it. It’s certainly a candidate, from that perspective, for a re-read or three.

From a purely stylistic perspective, I was mesmerized from page one - there’s no dialogue. Or rather, the entire book is dialogue. A single voice dictates the entire novel, carrying the reader through time and space on his voice alone. Just as impressively the gaps in the conversation with his fellow patron at a bar don’t feel like gaps. It’s clear what he’s responding to!

There’s so much going on in this book and I feel wholly unqualified to assess it. I read it. I thought many thoughts - though, if they were the thoughts Camus expected of his reader, I don’t know, and I’m worried that there’s so much more in this book that I will not glean without revisiting it in the years to come.


Some of the passages that I found particularly noteworthy.

Something must happen—and that explains most human commitments. Something must happen, even loveless slavery, even war or death. Hurray then for funerals!
Pg. 37

“One doesn’t talk back to one’s father”—you know the expression? In one way it is very odd. To whom should one talk back in this world if not to what one loves? In another way, it is convincing. Somebody has to have the last word. Otherwise, every reason can be answered with another one and there would never be an end to it. Power, on the other hand, settles everything.
Pg. 45

In the interest of fairness, it should be said that sometimes my forgetfulness was praiseworthy. You have noticed that there are people whose religion consists in forgiving all offenses, and who do in fact forgive them but never forget them? I wasn’t good enough to forgive offenses, but eventually I always forgot them.
Pg. 49

I was considered to have charm. Fancy that! You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question.
Pg. 56

How could sincerity be a condition of friendship? A liking for truth at any cost is a passion that spares nothing and that nothing resists. It’s a vice, at times a comfort, or a selfishness. Therefore, if you are in that situation, don’t hesitate: promise to tell the truth and then lie as best you can. You will satisfy their hidden desire and doubly prove your affection.
This is so true that we rarely confide in those who are better than we. Rather, we are more inclined to flee their society. Most often, on the other hand, we confess to those who are like us and who share our weaknesses. Hence we don’t want to improve ourselves or be bettered, for we should first have to bbe judged in default. We merely wish to be pitied and encouraged in the course we have chosen. In short, we should like, at the same time, to cease being guilty and yet not to make the effort of cleansing ourselves. Not enough cynicism and not enough virtue. We lack the energy of evil as well as the energy of good.
Pg. 83

You see, a person I knew used to divide human beings into three categories: those who prefer having nothing to hide rather than being obliged to lie, those who prefer lying to having nothing to hide, and finally those who like both lying and the hidden.
Pg. 119


Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!