The fall

by Albert Camus

Paperback, 1991




New York : Vintage Books, 1991.


Elegantly styled, Camus' profoundly disturbing novel of a Parisian lawyer's confessions is a searing study of modern amorality.

User reviews

LibraryThing member baswood
Over the last two days I have read this novel twice, not that difficult as it weighs in at just 107 pages in my penguin classic edition. After the first reading I felt I had read a masterpiece as Camus writes trenchantly again about the human condition, but just what I had read I couldn't be sure. The second reading gave me some answers but raised even more questions. The prose itself is superb and Camus gives us some key incidents in the book that act like rafts in a grey sea that has no horizon.

Camus opening paragraphs in all his novels have an immediacy that seem to grab the reader by the scruff of the neck and even if you are not sure where you are being lead you are fascinated by the experience. "May I, Monsieur offer my services without running the risk of intruding? and so starts a dialogue in which you the reader are the willing participant, but of course you can say nothing. Camus places his reader in a bar in Amsterdam; you are approached by Jean-Baptiste Clamence a fellow drinker who proceeds to tell you about his life, thoughts and beliefs while impressing on you that he is a most unreliable witness, because as you know, men are duplicitous beings. Jean-Baptiste's story unfolds over a five day period in which you and meet and drink with him in the bar, take a walk with him through old Amsterdam, accompany him on a trip to the Zuyderzee and finally attend him in his apartment. Towards the end of the novel it appears that you and Jean-Baptiste are strikingly similar, both Lawyers, a similar age, both worked in Paris etc until it appears that you could be the same person, and perhaps this is after all a monologue in which you the reader are the narrator.

The Fall is brilliantly structured as were Camus two previous novels [L'Etranger] and [The Plague] The central incident and the one that challenges Jean-Baptiste to the very core of his being occurs almost exactly mid way through the book. Jean-Baptiste is a successful lawyer, he is fit healthy and wealthy with the world seemingly at his feet when one night he crosses a bridge and notices a girl looking over into the canal; he notices the back of her neck cool and damp which stirs him, but he walks on. Fifty metres further along the quayside he hears a splash and knows immediately it is the sound of a body hitting the water, he hears a cry repeated several times but:

The silence that followed, as the night suddenly stood still, seemed interminable. I wanted to run and yet didn't move an inch. I was trembling. I believe from cold and shock. I told myself that I had to be quick and I felt an irresistible weakness steal over me. I have forgotten what I thought then. 'too late. too far.....' or something of the sort. I was still listening as I stood motionless. Then, slowly, in the rain, I went away. I told no one.

From this moment on it is a different sounding Jean-Baptiste that relates his story, he admits to losing the thread, his lucidity that he was known for has deserted him, he no longer has a circle of friends and admirers and Camus story at this point becomes strikingly less lucid. The reader/or Jean-Baptiste struggles with concepts that seem just out of reach. It is brilliantly evoked by the trip to the Zuydersee where the flaccid greyness of the sea and sky blurs the horizon. The final meeting takes place in the apartment where Jean-Baptiste has a fever and his thoughts have taken on an intensity that is missing from the first part of the book and religious vocabulary abounds.

Early on Jean-Baptiste describes Amsterdam's concentric canals as resembling the circles of hell, "the middle class hell of course, peopled with bad dreams" and the first part of the novel is a summing up of the human condition through the eyes of this successful lawyer, much of it is deeply ironical which can be gleaned from the name of the bar 'New Mexico' where the monologue takes place. Camus wit and wisdom are given free reign as he hits home again and again with barbed comments on modern life. However the real meat of the novel is contained in the second part and here the major themes emerge. Jean-Baptiste/you and me; is all about power and domination, which he had acquired as a successful man in Paris. After the incident on the bridge his craving for power is still part of his make-up but it has been shaken by his inability to take action to save the girl. Power he says comes from the ability to judge others and we are all guilty of some crime. If we can recognise and come to terms with this then we have a powerful lever over others and can sit in judgement over them. It is almost as though Camus/Jean-Baptiste is demanding that the reader confess to their own guilt as he takes on the persona of a judge-penitent. This is powerful stuff.

The title of the novel La Chute (the Fall) will immediately alert readers familiar with Christianity that the novel may be heavy with religious symbolism and it certainly is. However Camus' references are by no means obscure and in my opinion enhance the central theme of judgement so as to make it difficult to avoid. I talked earlier on about the superb structure of the novel and echoes and thoughts reflect backwards and forward creating a ripple effect similar to the water in the canals. This is an outstanding work of literature, a work that can be read over and over again and perhaps if you do that you might get to understand all of what Camus was expressing, but at the moment for me it is tantalisingly just out of reach. So typical of Camus. A five star read of course.
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
La chute ((English: The Fall) is a short novel by the Nobel Prize winning author Albert Camus. The novel can be read at several levels, obviously the deeper levels are difficult and less accessible, depending on the knowledge and experience of the reader. The excellence of The Fall is that the novel, although short, has so much more depth to offer.

The form of the novel is interesting, as the story is told in the form of a monologue of the narrator Jean-Baptiste Clemence. This monologue is not a confession to a priest, but a bar conversation. Not at the bar in a court of law, Clemence is a barrister, but in a pub in the Amsterdam city centre. The monologue is written in the typical type of conversation people sometimes have in such places, when they can unburden themselves to a stranger without limitations.

Thus, Jean-Baptiste Clemence tells the reader the story of his life. The essence of his life is what many people would consider the essence of their lives. Everyone believes that they are a nice person. This remarkable fact should be recognizable to any reader. No matter how deep the conflict in any human relation, each party always feels right. We learn that Clemence has lived the larger part of his life with the snug belief and image of himself as a good man, with a good heart, always willing to help others, by supporting the weak. But ,metaphorically extending a helpful hand is a very different matter from extending a literal helping hand. One day as a woman falls of a bridge, Clemence hesitates, and does not rush to help. The scene is sufficiently clever constructed, with a delay between the fall, the realization of what happened for Clemence to make the confrontation easy to neglect. The urgency is finely balanced at that edge where man has to decide to rush into action on the instant and the realization that one is probably (already) too late. This event makes Clemence doubt his ability to truly help people.

A second event Clemence tells his listener was pivotal in shattering his self-image. In a traffic quarrel Clemence appears as fairly reasonable, when suddenly the other hits him and rushes off. Dazed Clemence is left standing there, unable to get into action, and react. His failure to take appropriate action, that is to say what would be appropriate is his eyes, makes him feel impotent. Again, the situation, which involves another person is sufficiently complicated to make it psychologically entirely convincing, resulting in a total feeling of humiliation on the part of Clemence.

The power of the novel is to make the reader see that, while we generally have negative associations with the word "humiliation, it is generally felt that "humility" is a virtue. The Fall takes the form of penance, in which Jean-Baptiste Clemence falls from an elevated position to a lower position, in his own esteem. This humiliation enables him to see a much truer image of himself.

The novel contains a lot of material and many images and references that enable readers to extend the basic theme, and explore this theme at deeper levels. For instance, the novel is set in a bar in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, both in English and French alternatively known as "the Low Lands" (les Pays-Bas), to emphasize the descend from high to low. During World War II, the Netherlands was the country most co-operative with the Nazis in the deportation of Jewish citizens to the death camps. The pub in which Clemence tells his story is located in that historical quarter that used to house the largest number of Jewish people, and that was turned into a ghetto during the occupation. While the Dutch were least helpful, the French in Vichy-France were not very helpful to their Jewish compatriots either.

The admirable quality of The Fall is that the main theme is accessible to all readers who are interested and willing to spend their time reading literary fiction, unlike some fiction which is so inaccessible that all but professional literary critics can make any sense of it. In the case of Camus novel The Fall is may definitely interest some readers to read some additional literary criticism on this novel to deepen their understanding, and reveal other, beautiful and interesting dimensions of the book.
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LibraryThing member endersreads
It's quite sad what alleged logic can do to morality or individual conscience. It should now be quite obvious to humanity what dangers arise from the lack of a conscience.

Camus gives us here the confession of Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a lawyer turned "Judge Penitent".

"Have you noticed that Amsterdam's concentric canals resemble the circles of hell? The middle-class hell, of course, peopled with bad dreams. When one comes from the outside, as one gradually goes through those circles, life — and hence its crimes — becomes denser, darker. Here, we are in the last circle." (Camus 283)

Google an image of Amsterdam and you will immediately see how true Clamence's words are. Here in the red-light district of hell, at a bar, "Mexico City", Clamence confesses. Half the book is taken up with showing us what a wonderful and caring person Clamence had been at the height of his successful career as an attorney in Paris. He helped the blind, took on cases of the poor for no charge, et cetera, et cetera.... It goes on at length.

Due to Clamence not coming to the aide of a woman who commits suicide, his Fall begins. He begins to become aware of his duplicity. He helps people not to help them, but to gain respect, to build himself up. He suddenly feels the glaring reality of his falsity and he hears the laughter which acknowledges his acknowledgment.

"To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others."

Clamence no longer believes in the speeches he must give in court on justice, law, crime... His descent into hell begins, and it is fairly ugly, though illuminating. There are many philosophical truths Camus strikes upon, yet there is more disillusionment.

The problem with Clamence is that he cannot accept his duplicitous nature. He goes from one polarization to the other, never finding a balance, but rather a comfortable position. He sees paradox as ridiculous, yet cannot escape it. In trying to do so, he becomes ridiculously tragic.

Paradox saturates our world to keep us from polarization. Clamence would lose much of his seething cynicism should he stop drinking gin. The gin philosopher is indeed, a false prophet. What do we gain from listening to false prophets? If we know not that they are false prophets, we lose much and chances are they know not that they are a false prophet. Clamence however, being a Judge-Penitent, confesses to us before we confess to him—that he is a false prophet.

The danger in this is losing oneself further into the abyss. How much more dangerous is the man who knows he is falling than the man who is falling and does not know it? Certainly the latter will not be as desperate or as illuminated.

This is a complex and shallow book. It ends on a sinister note. I believe that Jean-Baptiste Clamence was on the verge of death from alcoholism. After the woman who committed suicide awakened him to his reality, he goes on a dangerous voyage of self exploration, and at the end denies the importance of life and is happy that he did not save the woman's life. He traveled the circle of hell, ended upon the spot he started out on, and remains inside the circle.
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LibraryThing member cameling
In this existential masterpiece, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, a French lawyer who had been first revered and then reviled, unburdens himself to a stranger in a bar in Amsterdam. Clamence was always considered the 'good guy', ready to help the blind cross the street, give up his seat to the elderly on the bus and defend victims of injustice.

However, as he gets into the details of his good deeds, the underlying hypocrisy of his motives are exposed. And through his confession lies the truth behind his actions. His acts of altruism hide the fact that he actually doesn't like those he 'helps' and that he extends his hand to those he considers less fortunate than he is because he relishes in the glow of self-satisfaction after.

This book will make the reader consider the age-old question of the meaning of life and death, and to stop and consider how we're living our lives, whether the decisions we make are borne out of the sincere desire to do what's right or if they are masks for vanity and selfishness. I doubt anyone could read this and not cringe occasionally in self-recognition.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
Jean-Baptiste Clamence would be your worst nightmare to happen upon if you were attempting to have a quiet drink in a bar. He commences to tell you the details from every moment of his past life and goes on for five evenings! Really, I wonder what sort of a man it was who showed up on the second night to hear more. It would take a lot of gin to make me expose myself to that.

That being said, I read through the whole thing in what amounted to about five nights! With mostly no gin. So, what made me continue to show up? It was the insight into human motivations, the mirror for examination, and the fact that Camus is an author who is a stretch for me, so I wanted to know. Having read this at the same time I was reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, I was amazed at how the two tales dovetailed to give the complete story. Reading this is like reading the success story for the demons. I just realized that both tales are written in second person, although Lewis' is in the form of correspondence so you don't get the whole "self-obsessed monologue conversation" thing.
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LibraryThing member jorgearanda
Leaving the cumbersome translation aside, this is a short but deep exploration of conscience, guilt, and ulterior motives. I wish I had even a tenth of Camus' introspective powers and blinding honesty.
LibraryThing member jonfaith
A few years ago my wife and i were in the UK, in Reading, and we had went out for drink with her brother. A gentleman walked over and sat next to us and began unfolding his life story, one rife with accomplishment i.e. he had been kicked out of the French Foreign Legion for being too violent and then he had made millions speculating in global markets. Presently, he "was between things",as it were. He went on and on about the superiority of the German and Japanese people and why ego was all that mattered. This grew uncomfortable and polite asides weren't working. We finally left. I had a similar impression in finally reading The Fall.

Effective, yet I felt it was an essay as monologue and not a novel. It certainly must have been evocative at the time of its publication.
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LibraryThing member richardderus
The Book Report: Told as a long monologue stretched over several days, Jean-Baptiste Clamence reviews the very great highs of his life as a respected criminal attorney, and the very great lows of his life as a libertine without a discernible conscience or moral compass. He narrates his life to an unseen and unheard Other, a tourist from France in Clamence's adopted home of Amsterdam who runs into Clamence at a seedy bar. At each major turning point in Clamence's life, the narrative adds another level of self-serving horribleness, and the reader recognizes the commonality of all people with each other in Clamence's descent...fall...from the peaks of public acclaim and well-wishing into the pits of a personal hell, made up of the deeds done and undone that bend us into new internal shapes with our regrets.

My Review: I read La Peste when I was seventeen, and I ***HATED*** it. I was angry at the waste of so much as a single tree to print it, in any and all languages and countries around the world. I despised each and every syllable. I vowed never, ever, ever to read another word by Camus. From that cold winter's night in 1976 to the point I was forced by the Book Circle to pick this book up, I kept to that promise.

Well. I sit corrected. La Chute is a fascinating moral tale told by a story-teller of great power and flawless control of his material and his language. (I am reliably informed that the original French is superb; this translation is sterling.) I am so glad that I didn't make the mistake of letting my teenaged judgment stand unchallenged. I would have missed out on a life high point in reading. I am accused, with Clamence, of leading a life grounded in the illusions of one's own superiority, one's own infallible rightness. HA! Wisdom comes, when it does, at a high price...the life of an innocent, the decision to be silent, the power of life and death over a virtual stranger are all things that happen to many, even most, of us; they're not always instantly obvious, of course, so we let them slide away unmarked. But how do *you* know that your call to complain about the service you received didn't result in someone losing a last-chance job, spiraling into depression, and ending her life? You don't. Clamence does. (That didn't happen in the book, by the bye.)

This book did what only the very best books written by the very best writers can do: It reoriented my internal compass. Permanently. Read it! Soon!
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LibraryThing member pgmcc

Camus was a master at writing the powerful book. “The Fall” is an easy book to read in that it is short and conversational, but it forces the reader to think, which can be exhausting. It forces one to think about oneself, one’s self-image and one’s behaviour to others.

The technique used for writing the book is giving one side of a conversation between the main character and his chosen interlocutor. Mohsin Hamid used this approach to great effect in his book, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”.

Camus’s story is a real ripping away of the masks people wear and is a fundamental questioning of the real reasons behind why people do what they do and say what they say. A key element of Camus’s argument, or should I say, the argument of his character, is paradox. He questions why people do good things: is it because they want to make the world better for others or because they want to feel good about themselves and appear to morally soar above their peers? It is the old chestnut of all charity being selfish because it is ultimately self-serving.

This story tells of the success and decline of a high flying lawyer in Paris, full of self-confidence, a master of his own destiny, who has a momentary doubt about himself. This momentary doubt, this sudden crisis of confidence, plays on his mind. It grows. It takes over his life. “The Fall” leads the reader to the discovery of these facts through the conversation in which the protagonist “confesses” his weaknesses and flaws, and in which he justifies his views and turns the tables on every member of the human race.

Having reached the end of the book I have to recover my breath. I have underlined more quotes and comments in this book per page than in any other book I can think of, but rather than sharing these quotes and ideas here I am inclined to say, “Read the book. Enjoy the quotes in their natural surroundings.”

“The Fall” is a worthwhile read and I think it is a book that everyone will get something from. Whether you agree with the protagonist’s views or not, it will help you think about life and put things in perspective.
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LibraryThing member JimmyChanga
Wow, what a mind-fuck of a good book. The human voice is the most atrocious sound in the world. This book is like an endless replica of that voice, turned into a little human bone, lodged in the human ear.
LibraryThing member TakeItOrLeaveIt
different than the Stranger in the sense that our narrator is a witty jack-ass, this book also influenced the post-punk movement in a similar way clearly with the band The Fall and numerous other artists that were moved by Camus' mentality. an existentialist reader isn't especially an 'exi' but should understand the idea well after reading The Fall.… (more)
LibraryThing member BeesleSR
After finishing the Math history ‘Prime Obsession’ I picked up “The Fall” by Albert Camus. I think I understood the math in ‘Prime Obsession’ better than the philosophy in “The Fall”. The character labeled ‘Clamence’ whose ‘real’ identity is questionable has an ego the size of New York City but the style of a Parisian Hedonist. Pontificating with philosophical ruminations on the nature of good and evil and our relationship not so much with those two ‘qualities’ (good and…) but with the schema we have constructed within which to place these two labels. I think the character suggested that without criminals to prosecute, society’s moral framework would become a joke. (Because we are all guilty; it is just that with criminals being the objects upon which we project ‘the bad’ and the foil with which we construct our own innocence.) Albert Camus had me scratching my head and wishing I might sit in with a student seminar on French Literature of the fifties so that I could get a better handle on the meat of the book. At one point ‘Clamence’ becomes descriptive of the Paris around him and I relax and start to enjoy the prose when suddenly ‘Clamence’ catches himself being lyrical and castigates himself before getting back to what really matters. I guess I’d better go Google Camus.… (more)
LibraryThing member jlelliott
Bleak but beautiful, The Fall is one of those books that reveals humans for what they are. The lawyer protagonist has worked all his life for justice, but to what end? He would like to believe that he has a selfless interest in downtrodden people and lofty ideals, but as the book progresses he is forced to confront his hypocrisy. He works hard ultimately for himself, he enjoys the public image of himself as a selfless person. The realization tortures him, and to resolve the hypocrisy he stops all his charitable endeavors and hurls himself into a life of selfish pleasure. But can any of us claim true selflessness? Camus is of course a master at showing us the hypocrisy and ridiculousness lurking under our highest ideals, and this book is no exception.… (more)
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
825 The Fall A Novel, by Albert Camus translated by Justin O'Brien (read 19 Oct 1965) I did not post-reading note on this book and do not recall it much. I think I was not very with the deeper meaning in the book. Wikipedia has an extensive article on the book:
The Fall (Albert Camus novel) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia… (more)
LibraryThing member raggedprince
Anyboody interested in exploring the question: 'Do lawyers have any conscience whatsover?' might be interested in how it's explored here. Those who already know the correct answer (no) will still find a remarkable and edifying read. Deserves to be as well read as 'the outsider'.
LibraryThing member RavRita
The Fall is a fantastic book that I was surprised that I had not already read. The story is about a London lawyer that has changed his life from the selfish, self absorbed, career enhancer that he was to a more reflective recluse that helps others. His transformation did not come easy to him. The book is a diatribe of the main character's life to a stranger he meets in a bar in Amsterdam. The personal demons that caused him to pause and reflect reside in all of us. What would cause you to question how you are living your life?… (more)
LibraryThing member ctpress
The ramblings of Clemence - where we are the listeners - is brilliantly constructed. It seems accidental, but no - every little casual remark is planted with great care by a genius storyteller. Clemence babbles along, first full of confidence, bravado and cheering for himself - his own goodness and then suddently - a splash - a women drowning in the river and he does nothing. Brushes it away...

But forever haunted by this scream (now a laughter) - how he discovers he really do not know himself - he cannot trust himself - all his good deeds is just to polish his own ego. And I think that Clemence’s basic fear is that people will find out who he really is - that the world will discover what he really thinks when he is totally alone with himself. Without anyone to confide in.

Oh, he is clever, and honest, that Camus. He makes me think. A lot.
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LibraryThing member Daedalus
This book is Holyshitgood. I love it. It was the first Camus I read and he's been in my literary pantheon ever since.
LibraryThing member BALE
Wow, what an amazing novel! Camus’ theological-philosophical inferences painted within in a fog-filled arena of muted tones make for a heavily weighted, entrancing read. With its universal implications, The Fall should be on everyone’s, “to read” list.
LibraryThing member GlebtheDancer
I love Camus' novels, and his essays are among the most thought-provoking I have read, genuinely shaping my outlook in life. The latter are, however, undoubtedly dense, hard work. Unfortunately, to me 'The fall' was neither one thing nor the other. It is written as a novella in which a man accosts another and gradually reveals his fall from virtue (an absurd state) to one of being a 'virtuous satan' (Camus' term for post-God fearing 20th century people). Anyone who has read 'The Rebel' will recognise these themes instantly. However, the narrative is too sporadic to be a driving force of the book, so it reads more like a philosophical essay, but the attending need to express it as words in the narrator's mouth reduce the amount of historical context that Camus can put in. Consequently it is neither essay nor novel. 'The Rebel' is a much better example of the former, 'The Outsider' and 'The Plague' better examples of the latter. This is an okay addiion to my Camus reading, but I think that if I had started here I wouldn't have got much further.… (more)
LibraryThing member stillatim
This was much more interesting than the Outsider, but also much less well done, technically. Camus seems very uncomfortable with the first person; the awkward stage setting is embarrassing. This should have been a Bernhardesque paragraph. That would have been great; when the speaker is allowed to speak, everything goes very well indeed. The ending is cunning, but not as effective as it could have been if Camus had just let go of the tired trappings of realism. The general aim of the book, to bring our colossal guilt to our own attention, is an enormously important task. I just wish someone had edited it a bit, gotten rid of the descriptions of the Zuyderzee and so on.… (more)
LibraryThing member michaelbartley
I found that in this book Camus explores the edges of existentialism. somewhat similar in what he did in the stranger, same sort of main character, expect this time the character feels some remose. he looks back on his life and feels regart
LibraryThing member bibleblaster
Suitably gloomy about human nature, this "confession" is no walk in the park but rather a jounrey to the depths. Even the highest altruism is here exposed as crass selfishness, but it does hold some brilliant writing. Here's an existential gem to take home: "One plays at being immortal and after a few weeks one doesn't even know whether or not once can hang on till the next day." Free "Fall"ing, indeed.… (more)
LibraryThing member jen.e.moore
Oh, I know that guy. That's the guy who realizes that he's not as good of a person as he thought he was, and rather than doing the work to make himself a good person, decides to drag everyone else down to his level instead. This is a good portrait of that guy. The problem is, that guy is a jackass I don't want to spend any more time with. Good thing it was short.… (more)
LibraryThing member nickelcopper
This is my first work of Camus and it was tremendous. It's not something I can sit down and digest in one sitting, but something that has to be contemplated and discussed, or the book will beat you. The first time I read it, it was definately smarter than I, but round two with some discussion was well worth it. Great read.


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