review: the plague

19 March 2013

book info:
on sale: now
copy from: the library
pages: 308
review written: 13/3/13
translation: Stuart Gilbert

A gripping tale of human unrelieved horror, of survival and resilience, and of the ways in which humankind confronts death, The Plague is at once a masterfully crafted novel, eloquently understated and epic in scope, and a parable of ageless moral resonance, profoundly relevant to our times. In Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, the plague begins as a series of portents, unheeded by the people. It gradually becomes a omnipresent reality, obliterating all traces of the past and driving its victims to almost unearthly extremes of suffering, madness, and compassion. (goodreads)
(a very big-word-y, adjective filled summary)

my thoughts:

First, lets talk about the cover. When I got the book, I didn't even look at the cover. I thought it was some amorphous shapes and colours, but with a closer look I realised it's blood going down a drain. That's When one thinks of plague, it's about buboes and pus and disgust. But this cover shows the blood, which I think is more fitting because the plague in this book isn't about the disease but about the people who suffer through it. Blood is more "human" than buboes, symbolically. Does that make sense?

Just before reading this, I had read The Stranger by Albert Camus and was blown away. I had high expectations for this book, but I didn't even finish reading it. It's taken me many weeks to chew this up and digest.

In this book, Camus explores a situation that rarely anybody has experienced. What would one do is he was quarantined in a town with imminent death upon him? No contact from the outside world, and people dropping dead (literally like rats) all over? Dr Rieux carries on his job of going house-to-house and diagnosing plague victims who die at alarming rates.Others try to carry on life as normal by visiting caf├ęs and taking strolls. However, they realise this isn't possible. So what can one do?

When I first started reading, rats were dying like crazy. It was a promising start, but it didn't improve from there story-telling wise. This book was a long read, and not surprisingly: it's the longest book Camus has ever written. It was more preachy than it was story-telling. I just got names, vague letters in my mind that formed into some vaporous image of a man.  Characters are absolutely essential in telling a story, and I think Camus focuses more on his philosophy on man and the human condition in times of stress and fear than on the actual humans themselves. I was fascinated by Camus's anecdotes and little lessons on life (French existentialism) but felt as if I was reading an essay instead of a story.

If I read this from an essay-philosophical standpoint, it was very well done. Camus has a way of explaining things that just make pure sense. For instance, what stands out from my reading was this part where a man (forgot his name) organised a group to combat plague. Camus described it as a duty and something that they should have done without being called "heroes" and compared this to a teacher and student. A teacher's duty is to teach the student, so the teacher isn't exalted for teaching the student because that's his duty.

Very much like The Stranger, The Plague has that same detached style of writing told from the third person, a mysterious narrator. Another similarity is the beautiful descriptions of scenes that make an Oscar-winning film reel roll in my head.

"On moonlight nights the long, straight street and dirty white walls, nowhere darkened by the shadow of a tree, their peace untroubled by footsteps or a dog's bark, glimmered in the pale recession. The silent city was no more than an assemblage of huge, inert cubes, between which only the mute effigies of great men, carapaced in bronze, with their blank stone or metal faces, conjured up a sorry semblance of what the man had been. In lifeless squares and avenues these tawdry idols lorded it under the lowering sky; stolid monsters that might have personified the rule of immobility imposed on us, or, anyhow, its final aspect, that of a defunct city in which plague, stone, and darkness had effectively silenced every voice."
-The Plague
Yet this narration and the way the story feels is very impersonal and hard to relate to. I felt like I was reading a medical journal instead of a novel. Once again, I think maybe this was the point? After all, it is about the plague.

I loved all the quotable material, the philosophical parts that made me halt reading and just think and re-read the words and digest them completely. This is why it's taken me so long to finish this book. It's so thick and heavy with meaning that unless one is really patient, it will be difficult to read. One bit that made me stop and think was:

"Well, personally, I've seen enough of people who die for an idea. I don't believe in heroism; I know it's easy and I've learned that it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves."
Isn't that amazing? I'm currently reading Julius Caesar for class, and one of the pre-read discussions I had asked a question like "Is it OK to die for any reason? For one's country or a belief or idea" and I had thought "Well yeah, if that's what the person wants." I think it's not the right of people to judge the what another does to himself that ends up hurting that one person. Like suicide. I think that if a person commits suicide, his life is over. He's gone and he's paid the price of his actions. So how can others complain and say "he committed sin" or "did something selfish" or things like that when he is dead and gone? Anyway. I love how Camus doesn't take a stand, but remains indifferent and directs the topic to an area where it otherwise would be. "Enough about dying for an idea, now dying for love--that's interesting". I would have loved to have a conversation with this man. Material like this makes everything I found wrong with the book right.

 I had by ups and downs with The Plague, a negative cancelling out a positive. However, I didn't finish the book. I felt like I was drowning in a swamp of lengthy paragraphs and put the book up when I was about three quarters of the way through. Therefore, this merits 3 trees (my new rating system is taking a while to get ready, so I'm still using the trees, haha)

a little update + cool news!

09 March 2013

Hello readers!
   I swear, I am taking notes and working on writing a review for The Plague by Albert Camus. I'm only about one and half quarters through with it and I've been at it for more than a week! This isn't as interesting book as The Stranger, but it's still magnificent!

  As you can see, I've had a few changes to Pages! I never made an official post about it so here we are! I have the beautiful new theme thanks to Ana from Blog Milk. She's so incredibly down-to-earth, sweet and attentive to every tiny problem I had. It's been amazing working with her, and you should totally visit her shop is you're looking for a cute and professional Blogger OR Wordpress theme! I'm so satisfied right now: I don't have to worry about my design any longer. Now I can just focus on content!

  Also, I have a new header and blog button made by my friend called Grace Anna. She's just as lovely to work with and I joke with her that she has mind-reading abilities that somehow make her understand exactly what I'm looking for. Can you guess what our inspiration was?

My Neighbour Totoro

The defining film of my childhood and life. My most favourite film ever that made me who I am today. I thought it would be fitting to join this with my book blog, another defining part of my pre-teen/teenage life. It's so cute, right? I'm so in love and so happy with every bit of my website now! What do you all think?

I also have a new blog button if you know, you'd like to ooh say...add it to your blog? ~cough~ Yes yes. Ah, sorry about that :D

Another ridiculously amazing event that's happened is that I've been interviewed! By Amelia (The Authoress) for her Saturday Spotlight! LOOK! It's the first time I've ever been interviewed (I may have forgotten an earlier one? I have no idea) but it's very exciting! I've known Amelia in the blogging world for a while, and she's one of my old friends. She started blogging two years after my own blog had started and would talk quite often to each other. Yayayayayay, I'm really happy right now!

I wish you all a HAPPY Saturday and a fun rest-of-the-week. Keep reading :D My next post will be a review, I promise!

Best wishes :)

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