Human beings tend to cling to convenient obliviousness – ‘I haven’t seen it, so it can’t really exist!’ – in spite of embarrassing, burgeoning bodies of evidence to the contrary. In order for this comfortable bliss of ignorance to be maintained, it follows that any flagging up of the problem will be met with denial: so naturally you get accusations of lying, or exaggeration. These aren’t always intentionally unkind – I think they’re often motivated by a horrified inability to accept the severity of the problem as by a deliberate attempt at dismissal. – Laura Bates, Everyday Sexism
This quote explains perfectly the ignoring of all the warning signs in The Plague, especially by Dr. Rieux and his colleagues. A stampeding immigration of thousands of infected, dying rats doesn’t raise an alarm, really?!
A riveting 100-page opener filled with realistic personal, medical, social, and legal observations and their emotional repercussions was followed by an increasingly introspective and philosophical narrative and dialogue. Unfortunately I wasn’t as enamoured with the slower paced latter than I was the action-packed former. However, it does perfectly reflect the tiresome nature of the plague: being imprisoned in the town under quarantined conditions, unable to leave or communicate with the outside world, separating friends and family.
The stifling heat of summer, the inescapable smell of burning bodies and the only news of note being the number of dead that day, becomes insufferable, but the people must endure for they have no choice. All emotions are heightened in the face of the apocalyptic nature of the plague, randomly killing everyone around you – fear, depression, desperation. One could’ve even take solace in their pets as they’re exterminated in case they spread the disease, which deprives one old man of his favourite pastime – spitting on cats. (Haha! Sorry, I’m a dog-person.)
This story of triumph and tragedy covers 8 months (Apr 16 to Jan 25) and is set in 1940s Algeria, and by the end I was just as exhausted and tired of the plague as Oran’s residents, Dr. Rieux especially.
*Read the translation by Robin Buss.
**Read as part of The Dead Writers Society’s Around the World challenge.