ALBERT CAMUS by Herbert R. Lottman


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A difficult subject, Camus. Bracketed between initial public recognition of him as a philosopher of suicide and disaffection and his death at 48 in a car accident--between premeditation and chance--was Camus' lifelong horror of murder, of someone else dealing death; to avoid this, in a time of war and revolt, involved steering a course down a precarious middle that often earned him foolish praise (the Nobel) and partisan hatred (Sartre). Lottman's jumbo biography steers a middle road itself, noting all the fluctuations but never following the smaller unresolved routes of the life. Algiers-upbringing, TB at 19, early Communism, work on the first of many newspapers. Then to Paris: Paris-Soir, the ambiguous Resistance career (as Lottman interestingly discusses, the Gallimard-Establishment writers such as Camus and Sartre did underground work at the same time they produced plays publicly and waited for reviews from the critic for the Pariser-Zeitung); editing the influential postwar Combat. The Plague proved a best-seller; The Rebel cause for alienation from Sartre. Writer's block at 40, then his best fiction, The Fall--after which silence again, even about Algeria, his homeland, now being torn apart. At 44, he receives the Nobel, all but worthless to him now that he can't seem to write anymore. Four years later he's dead: a life either of inspired humanistic levelheadedness or one of intriguing suggestions but no great impact. Lottman never once gets close to the loose ends of Camus' life--his many romances, for one thing--to start to give a psychological shading to this life of velleity; nor does he dare any critical discussion of Camus' work. Much taken with his subject's pudeur--reserve--Lottman is nearly as tight. One is thus left with an impression of Camus as a species of ballasted newspaperman, a French James Reston, lacking all edge. True? Lottman, European correspondent for Publishers Weekly, offers lots of detail but little direction.

Pub Date: March 16th, 1979
Publisher: Doubleday