Monday, 16 December 2013

An Albert Camus Book for Christmas

"It is better to be Herod's hog than his son."* 
- Augustus

This observation on the strength of the cruelty of Herod persuades me to relate, what is to my way of thinking, the real story of Christmas. I see it this way: 

A woman is destined to give birth to seven children: five boys and two girls. The first born will change the world. The woman is aware of this even before the child is born. The event has been predicted for centuries by wise men and prophets and it must come to pass for it is written in the stars as the saying goes. 

The special baby is born. The woman insists that the boy's  father is no less an entity than the Supreme Being. The prediction is fulfilled. 

The military goes on to high alert. All babies, that is all children of Judea up to the age of two must be eliminated.

The family, comprising the mother, her husband, and the baby, must flee. It will not be easy. The authorities have spies everywhere. And then there are the families dreading that their own children will be killed if this baby of God is not quickly found and handed over. They too are on the lookout for the three fleeing abroad. And yet somehow, as we all know, the three made it through. 

I have just finished reading The Fall by Albert Camus. 

The thing to do now is to read it again. But first I must do my homework. I must learn exactly what a Sadducee is, or more correctly I must look at the differences between the Sadducees and the Pharisees. I must look into the 9th and inner circle of Hell in Dante's Inferno. And I must acquaint myself with the text of a song - La Vie en rose, a song by the French singer Edith Piaf. 

And then there's the case of Girolamo Savonarola, a Florentine monk excommunicated and executed as a heretic.  

And much more. 

Only when I have completed my research will I be able to fully appreciate  the importance of The Fall, a work described by The Guardian as the most prefect of Albert Camus' meditations on human isolation and bewilderment. 

A Christmas reading tip? I suppose it depends, for when it comes to religion and the message of Christmas many of us don't want or need our comfort zone disturbing. If you are one such I must suggest that you don't read the following extract: 

I'll tell you a great secret, dear fellow. Don't wait for the Last Judgement, it takes place every day.

No, it's nothing, I'm shivering a bit in this accursed damp. Anyway we're there. That's it. After you. But stay a bit longer do, and come with me. I haven't finished, I must go on. That's what's difficult: going on. Now do you know why they crucified him, the other fellow, the one you may be thinking of right now? Well, there were any number of reasons for it. There are always reasons for a man's murder. What's impossible, on the contrary, is to justify letting him continue to live. That's why there are always lawyers for the prosecution and only sometimes for the defence. But alongside the reasons that have been very well explained to us over the past two thousand years, there was one great reason for that frightful agony, and I can't see why it is so carefully concealed. The real reason is that he knew, himself, that he was not entirely innocent. While he might not have carried the burden of sin of which he was accused, he had committed others, even if he did not know what they were. Anyway, did he really not know? He was at the source, after all.  He must have heard speak of a certain massacre of the innocents. Why were the children of Judea massacred while his parents were taking him to a safe place, unless it was because of him? Of course, he didn't want it to happen. He was appalled by those bloodstained soldiers and children cut in half. But being who he was, I am sure that he could not forget them. And the sadness that one perceives in everything he does: was that not the incurable melancholy of a man who could hear all night long the voice of Rachel wailing for her children and refusing any consolation? The lamentation rose into the night: Rachel calling to her children, who had been killed for him, while he was alive!

Knowing what he did, understanding everything about mankind - oh, who would have believed that the crime is not so much to make someone die as not to die oneself! - confronted day and night by his innocent crime, it became too hard for him to sustain himself and carry on. It would be better to have done with it, not to defend oneself, to die in order not to be alone in life, to go somewhere else, perhaps, he would be supported. He was not supported, he complained of it and, to finish off, he was censured. Yes, it's the third evangelist, I think, who began to suppress his complaint. 'Why have you abandoned me?' was a seditious cry, wasn't it? So, give us the scissors! And note that if Luke had not suppressed it, the matter would have passed more or less unnoticed; in any case, it would not have taken on such importance. That's how the censor advertises what he condemns. 

*Herod's own son was one of an estimated 14,000 babies and children murdered during the massacre of the innocents, hence the comment by Augustus. 

The Fall / Albert Camus 
Penguin Modern Classics 
ISBN 978-0-141-18794-5


  1. I did wonder whether or not to put this in Dominic's stocking - I think maybe not after reading the extract.

  2. Mmm. Maybe The Rebel or The Myth of Sisyphus by the same author ;) No, what he would enjoy if he hasn't already got it is Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith.


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