Albert Camus is a fairly new author to me, and I must begin by saying that I'm not too familiar with his work. Last year I read his The First Man, The Stranger, and American Journals. All of these books were amazing, so when I reached for the highly acclaimed The Plague, I was expecting yet another fascinating read.
The Plague started great. The writing is what I had grown to expect from Camus - intelligent and thought provoking. From the initial scene setting, I was effortlessly pulled into the story and had no trouble visualizing the plaque-stricken city of Oran.
Yet, as the novel progressed, I started to care less and less for the plight of Oran and its people. Perhaps I'm more hardened than the readers from the fifties were; or, perhaps, I have grown to expect more. The premise of the novel is definitely interesting, and Camus' writing leaves little to be desired. Nevertheless, the novel (for me) lacked the depth of thought I found in The Stranger, or the intimacy I experienced in The First Man.
About a third into it, I found myself pondering other books, which is something that has not happened before while reading Camus. Half way through I contemplated giving up, yet I continued hoping it would get better.
And it did, but not until later in the book, once the plague was no longer the main story. In one moment, the moment when Tarrou and Rieux take a break from the thankless work and devote an hour to their friendship.
From that point onward, the novel changes tone, and become deeply personal. Here, I found the Camus I was longing for—the Camus whose philosophy clashes with the establishment at large, where human stories are woven into the fictional settings.
Would I read The Plague again? Probably, some day in the future. Nevertheless, there is one thought that stayed with me long after I read these lines:
"It comes to this," Tarrou said almost casually; "what interests me is learning how to become a saint."
"But you don't believe in God."
"Exactly! Can one be a saint without God?—that's the problem, in fact the only problem, I'm up against today."
and a few lines later, Rieux answers:
"But, you know, I feel more fellowship with the defeated than with saints. Heroism and sanctity don't really appeal to me, I imagine. What interests me is being a man."
"Yes, we're both after the same thing, but I'm less ambitious."
Tarrou's response and Rieux's comment alone are what makes this book worth reading.