The Fall – Albert Camus

It is no easy task to review a book by Albert Camus. His books are deeply philosophical and often thought-provoking. You need to summon all your intellectual faculties to grasp all that he is saying because otherwise, you’ll run the risk of missing important points which are subtly scattered throughout the work. The Fall is quite honestly the most thought-provoking book I have read of Camus so far. His voice is so powerful, and his words are imposing that I was utterly drowned in them as to lose my own voice and words. I’m still not quite sure whether I’ve fully found my voice and words, and not even sure if I could pen my thoughts coherently. But some inner part of my mind signals me that I should venture to pour them nevertheless before awe overpowers and silences me from expressing my thoughts.

Written in a series of monologues, The Fall is a confession of a self-proclaimed “judge-penitent”, John Baptiste Clamence. He confesses his sins to a nameless stranger and describes his life before and after “the fall”. Clamence has been a successful and highly respected defense lawyer in Paris before a chance witnessing of a suicide marks the crisis of his life. The guilt of not taking any action to prevent it or immediately alerting anyone of the incident continuously weigh on his mind over the years until its force crushes him accenting his fall. He flees Paris and ends up in Amsterdam. There, in a bar, he tells his story to a stranger.

Clamence’s confession is not confined to his sins, but the sin of mankind at large. His life is just a mirror for us to see the truth of man. And mind you, it is not a pretty image. Clamence’s description of himself as “a double face, a charming Janus” who is nothing but a “play actor” is not confined to himself alone. To Clamence, all men are the same. They are nothing but play actors in a tragic social drama. “If everyone told all, displayed his true profession and identity, we shouldn’t know which way to turn.” So everyone is being pretty hypocrites, hiding their true self and displaying only a cloaked version of them. No one truly cares or is generous or loyal to his neighbour. All is just a pretense to satisfy man’s supreme need for self-satisfaction. Self-love is what is important. Man “has two faces: he can’t love without self-love”. And that makes all our outward actions turn towards us, pointing only at one direction, which is self-love. “The feeling of law, the satisfaction of being right, the joy of self-esteem, are powerful incentives for keeping us upright or keeping us moving forward.” The self-importance blinds the man and impairs his charity. He cannot appreciate or admire others, finding faults and being judgemental all the time. At their death, however, the so-far restricted tongues keep wagging and praise pours forth in torrents of words. Why is this so? Because they are no more and “with them, there is no obligation.”

This is the “fall”, the fall of mankind. Full of self-love and self-esteem, the men have forgotten to love their neighbours and have disobeyed the laws of humanity. And to hide their own fall from grace, they exercise a power that is reserved for God. They “judge in order not to be judged themselves.” Man is envious of another’s happiness. Happy men are the most persecuted. On the other hand, man relishes in another’s misery and sympathizes thoroughly. This is human nature. “Happy and judged or absolved and wretched.” But what right do we have to judge the others, sinners that we all are? And can we exercise such a power justly, which is obviously beyond our capacity? Clamence says to the stranger“You were speaking of the Last Judgment. I shall wait for it resolutely, for I have known what is worse, the judgment of men. For them, no extenuating circumstances; even the good intention is ascribed to crime.” By exercising a power beyond us, we have heavily erred.

Camus’s thoughts and words are powerful. Being an advocate of the absurdity of life, he shows the folly of these “play actors” who, in a life void of meaning, live as if they know its truth. I’m not in the same mind as Camus and my life philosophy is different. Nevertheless, one cannot stop taking notice of his side of the argument. There is a lot of truth in what he says.

My reading experience of The Fall is unique. It had such an intense force on me with its thought-provoking substance. I’ve been emotional over books, but I’ve never got goosebumps before. That reaction was wholly reserved for music. But Camus, with his powerful words, managed to infiltrate on what I have sacredly kept for that other branch of my enjoyment. So, I’ll say this to him. Dear Camus, thank you very much. You and I may not see eye to eye in everything. But you’ve somehow managed to settle under my skin with this beautiful work.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.

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