"The Plague" by Albert Camus (1947)
"...perhaps the day will come when, for the instruction and misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse its rats and send them to die in some well-contented city."
"The Plague" is one of those books that I'd been meaning to read for decades. Likewise Albert Camus, an author that I've read so much about, was largely a stranger (if you'll forgive the pun) to me until I read this book. Having just finished "The Plague," I can say that his reputation is entirely justified.
This novel is the story of a pestilence which envelops a small town in French North Africa on the eve of World War II. Many of the details in the book are autobiographical, and the narrative shines with Camus' unique understanding of human nature. It is a book with a very French sensibility, but Camus infuses it with a universality that makes it very accessible.
That said, it is extremely depressing. It's not as depressing as Jose Saramago's "Blindness," which I read last year, but it is nevertheless a downer. Anyone who has waded through Sartre, one of Camus' contemporaries, will have some idea of the bleak nature of this book, but those who haven't will probably find it a bit off-putting. The plague takes hold of the town very early in the book, and its hold is unrelenting until the last few pages.
I'm eager to read Camus' "The Rebel," which is apparently his favorite of his own books. I think there is a lot to like in his approach to fiction, and "The Plague" is definitely a well-written and thoroughly engaging novel. Just the same, you'll probably feel slightly exhausted after reading this trial of the human spirit. It has lessons to teach, yes, but these lessons require a bit more fortitude from the average reader.