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Monday, February 7, 2011

LBT's Generic Book Corner: The Plague

Hello, and welcome to Book Central, where I talk books. I shall do my best to stay on topic today, but I make no promises. That is just how I roll.

Today I want to gush about Albert Camus' The Plague. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that this book is kindof the intersection of the Venn diagram of my heart. I love existentialism! I love books! For some reason relating to Stockholm syndrome and an epic project done during my undergrad, I love the Plague!* When I pretend that various characters are either a) SWINTON, or b) Cthulhu, my heart melts with joy.

That being said, follow me, won't you, as I continue my book love?

The Plague follows (SPOILER ALERT) an outbreak of the plague in an Algerian town. Unsurprisingly, things do not go very well.

It starts with the death of rats in the streets, which largely goes unnoticed. The doctors who treated the first human casualty posit the theory of the plague, but as usual in literature (and maybe life? I am not sure. I know that when I worked at a health clinic, I got the "what to do if you are exposed to the plague" lecture. My answer of "cough on my enemies" did not go over well), their words go unheeded. Which, really? Will it not kill people to heed, just a little?

Eventually, there is no way to deny that THE PLAGUE is plaguing it up, old school style (with many casualties and much panic, that is). The town of Oran (the book's setting (which everyone probably inferred, but being specific is no bad thing)) is quarantined. Would-be escapees are (SPOILER ALERT) shot. Communication with the wider world is limited.

The way the characters act in the face of the above varies beautifully. Some thrive, some despair. One of the themes that struck me on my first reading, and has stayed with me since, is isolation. The setting feels very claustrophobic at times, which really makes sense - granted, I am a bit of a horror buff, but to me it is analogous to the 'haunted house' (or 'trapped in a house with the killer') sub-genre. The characters are all stuck somewhere, with no escape, and with a very real chance that they will not survive. Only there will be no 11th hour explanation, no motive, no chance to reason. To me, this book illustrates man v. nature at its very best.

That said, it is, in my opinion, much more optimistic than Camus' The Stranger. For one thing, I think The Plague paints a much more positive picture of humanity, overall. There are beautiful human moments amongst the chaos, and if character is what you are in the dark, the majority of the characters acquit themselves admirably.


Join me next time, won't you, where I discuss another book, or perhaps just sandwiches. Or books AND sandwiches. You never know, the world is a crazy place.

* Look at the image at left. Who couldn't love that lil plague doctor? I defy you not to love him!