I have to admit, when I started reading The Fall I really wasn’t enjoying it. I kept putting it down, I kept making cups of tea, I kept finding excuses to play with the cat – I just couldn’t get on with it. It felt slow. The protagonist seemed so big headed, full of himself, boastful and not someone I could easily get along with. He struck me as the kind of character who, if we met in person, I would try to escape from. I would put distance between us, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It took some time. Thing’s do. Then it started to get interesting in a typical Camus-esque light, delicate, blending way. It was subtle, there was something in the air – perhaps the characters’ voice changed at some point, perhaps there was some small slip of the tongue, but something was there. Something. Something sinister. The protagonist invites you out for a walk, and we go with him and sit by the river, the plainest river we have ever seen and we listen to him talk. He says he realised something, that one day everything changed. It was the smallest of things – but it meant a great deal – and then we see this big-headed boastful character as someone completely different. We pity him. Feel for him. Want to put out our fictional arm and pull him close to us and say ‘it’s okay’.
Then I couldn’t stop reading. The end came at me like a brick wall round a sharp bend and I was left book-less. The endpapers splayed uselessly in my hands.
I’d read The Stranger (or The Outsider depending on the translation) a year or two ago and I’d loved that. Really loved it. Up there with Nausea and the others, and though this had the same feel to it it was different. It had twisted in such a dramatic way, and yet so smoothly. I couldn’t point out when the turn began if I tried.
Then we were told to read The Reluctant Fundamentalist for one of my modules. It was very similar to The Fall, although different in parts, certainly, but there was so much that was similar. It was clever, I’d give it that, but for me there wasn’t enough of a challenge – everything felt very 2D, very far away and unreal, as if every character had a comic-book-esque black line drawn around them. Archetype no.1 meets Archetype no. 2. It wasn’t heavy on the eyes, or the mind, and the narrative was smooth and far from cumbersome, but it felt too samey – gimmicky, I guess, taking someone elses idea and applying it elsewhere without a great deal of style. A lovely book, don’t get me wrong, but it just paled in comparison to The Fall (which was a supplementary text on our reading list – why The Reluctant Fundamentalist was core text when The Fall was sitting right under it I don’t know).
Also, whilst Camus is on the cards, I’d like to say that The Myth of Sisyphus is probably one of my strongest influences philosophically, aside from Derrida and Heidegger. Sisyphus came at me when I was at my worst, and, though it took some time to work in, it really helped me out. It felt so honest, so careful, so clear – not pretentious like most philosophical essays, not infinitely complex, but real – alive and now. It’s an approachable academic text, and stands largely independent of the pro-Enlightenment anti-Enlightenment fuss of contemporary philosophy. It stands on it’s own pedestal, in a way, and tackles an issue most modern philosophers would probably bat away with the back of their hand.
Mania? Maybe, but to me ‘this universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’
Albert Camus, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ in The Myth of Sisyphus trans. by Justin O’Brien (London: Penguin Books1975), pp. 9-125, p. 110