If you haven't already fallen in love with Camus, stop reading here. There is nothing I can say that will speak louder than his own words. Go pick up any of his books and then come back so I can say I told you so.
Although not as well known as The Stranger, The Plague is probably Camus' best piece of fiction writing.
The Plague is one of those books that says nothing with absolute concreteness, yet it plants something in your mind, something so subtle that you didn't even notice enter - until you're having a beer with a friend and the truth rings back in your ears, "that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, not to join forces with the pestilences."
Camus racks you brain about more than just good and evil. There are strange sub-plots that perfectly capture the Absurdity of life in countless aspects, whether it be love, artistic creation, approval, sex, etc. If you want a book to pull you out of your mental comfort zone, this is it.
Tell it like it is:
- Camus is Camus, so you know you'll love it
- A metaphysical story about life, death, god and reality
- Best read in french, else the Stuart Gilbert translation
- Being a good human being
Other good existential reads on this level:
- Nausea by Jean-Paul Satre
- Keep the Aspidistra Flying
- Camus once said, "Mankind is perpetually attempting to rationalize an irrational universe. This process of rationalization results in the absurd – we turn towards god only to obtain the impossible."
- Can one be a saint without God? Camus is asking, in a world without divine morality (in an absurd world), can one live a 'sin free' life? Is sainthood only possible in a non-absurd reality?
- Camus seems to be saying that religion is often chosen because of the frightening alternative of a Godless world.
- Camus attacks the idea of heroism multiple times, claiming that there is no heroism in doing what is right, it is done for its own sake. Sometimes it comes at a high cost, but that is simply the way it is.
- Life is but a plague.
- "All I maintain is that on earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it is up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences."
- "The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses in attention"
- "But what are a hundred million deaths? When one has survived a war, one hardly knows what a dead man is, after a while. Since a dead man has no substance unless one has actually seen him dead, a hundred million corpses broadcast through history are no more than a puff of smoke in the imagination."
- "When an innocent youth can have his eyes destroyed, a christian must either lose his faith or consent to having his eyes destroyed."
- "We must accept the dilemma and choose either to hate God or to love God. And who would dare choose to hate him?"
- "The thing he'd most detest is being cut off from others; he'd rather be one of the beleaguered crowd than a prisoner alone"
- "There is no doubt that the plague had killed of the faculty of love; for love asks something of the future and all that was left was a series of present moments"
- "[During the plague] the only distinction that can be made between men and for example dogs; men's deaths are checked and entered up."
- "There is no question of heroism in all this, it's a matter of common decency. That's an ida that may make some smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is common decency."
- "I don't beleive in heroism, I know it's easy and learned it can be murderous. What interests me is living and dying for what one loves"
- "This will render to the truth its due, to the addition of 2 and 2 its sum of 4, and to heroism its rightly place, just after, never before, the noble claim of happiness."
- "The evil in this world always comes of ignorance and good intentions may do just as much harm as malevolence"
- "The worst vice is ignorance that claims it knows everything and therefor claims the right to kill."
- "'Do you believe in god?' 'No – but what does that mean? I'm fumbling in the dark , struggling to make something out of it. But I've long ceased finding that original.'"
- "Gentlemen, hats off!"
- "So all a man could win in the battle between plague and life was knowledge and memories."