The Fall by Albert Camus is a short novel told in the first person by a narrator who is perhaps unreliable and absolutely unlikable. The novel is short and a quick read. I chose to read it because it takes place in Amsterdam. The narrator, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, is a Parisian living in Amsterdam, describing himself and his life and how he became a Judge-Penitent.
The narrator is unintentionally amusing. When he says he is not intelligent, he does so in a way that belies his words, clearly implying that he thinks himself intellectually superior to others. He contradicts himself many times, even when he says he has told a “totally insignificant story” it took him “a long time to forget” (53). Naturally the reader immediately recognizes that a forgotten story, insignificant or not, is not one that could be shared with another.
Camus does a brilliant job of creating a complicated who is not merely manipulating the listener (reader) so much as he is manipulating himself and his story. The novel is not driven by any real action. The narrator describes an incident that occurred in Paris, one to which he returns more than a few times, eventually revealing the implication of this one moment on his own perspective on humanity, the culpability that we all share. Written after World War II, this is especially harsh, an accusation that all of humanity has in the role of what happened. After all, while we might want to believe that if we could do it all over again we would nonetheless act no differently because all of us do the best we can in the moment.
It is this that the narrator drives home, that our best falls short of what we think we are and he reflects the worst of ourselves back onto us with each turn of the short novel’s page.