By Albert Camus
GoodReads rating: 3.98 out of 5
GL rating: 5 out of 10
(Comments originally posted on FB July 30, 2018)
The Plague is a solid novel. I enjoyed it and would recommend it with some qualifications. At its worst the writing generally was better than competent and periodically it was inspired.
The Plague, however, mostly underscored for me how superb Blindness (another Plague novel) is in comparison, and shed some light on what makes Blindness such a great book.
The Plague had a documentary feel, and it succeeds on that level, but it felt orthodox and conventional. Not what you’d call a triumph of the imagination. It was concerned more with the clinical and the process part of the story where Blindness was more focused on the psychological implications of its plague.
Camus described the impact of the Plague on the town at some length, whereas Blindness stuck more closely to one small group of people in an institution, leaving the effects of that plague on the town outside the gates mostly up to the reader’s imagination.
Blindness did a much better job of depicting the horrors attendant on its plague. Camus’ characters feel like they’re having articulate, earnest conversations about events they’d seen depicted in a PG-rated movie, while Blindness puts you in the room in a way that was totally harrowing. Not in a shock-factor way, but in its merciless assessment of what humans are capable of.
The Plague loosely follows the travails of 5 or 6 characters (all men) as they navigate the pestilence mostly on their own. Their character arcs did not feel rich; the story may have been more successful if their lives and stories were more woven together.
Camus intended the story to work as an allegory. The human condition is the true plague in his novel. There are both oblique and overt political dimensions to the story, including references to trains and crematoriums which presumably were meant to evoke the Holocaust.
Camus gets his point across, and this sets up one of the most moving scenes in the book, but overall this allegorical dimension felt somewhat predictable. Saramago’s efforts in these veins were more subtle much more evocative.