CAMUS by Patrick McCarthy


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In striking contrast to Herbert Lottman's recent Camus biography--which was stately, linear, and anxiously correct--McCarthy (Celine) clearly announces a less reverent approach: ""It is the unsaintly, anguished and curiously indifferent Camus who is the subject of this book."" And indeed, until he reaches the postwar period, McCarthy seems curiously indifferent himself. Briefly sketched: Camus' pied-noir Algerian upbringing; his disastrous first marriage; an equally brief marriage to the Communist Party; his entrapment in France when the Allies invaded North Africa during World War II. More fully explored are Camus' works (essays and novels), with literary criticism that is sturdy, if rather distanced. But it isn't until Camus' real postwar dilemmas begin that McCarthy seems to become seriously involved with his subject. Camus' ""deviously angelic nature,"" says McCarthy, allowed people to think that he'd been more involved in the Resistance than he actually was. And from there McCarthy, sometimes with an eagerness that borders on glee, tracks Camus' difficult tightrope-walking as a moralist--which culminated in his anti-terrorism in regard to the Algerian revolt (which pleased no one), his crushed reaction to a seemingly meaningless Nobel Prize, his creative self-destruction. True, McCarthy does end up with what seem like a few grudging crumbs of praise: he acknowledges Camus' libertarian loneliness in the face of facile solutions and Gallic intellectual smugness. But the tone throughout is generally hostile--and, while this angle works well in the treatment of Camus' last years, neither the life as a whole nor Camus' real tragedy is fully projected here: valuable as a partial counterweight to Lottman, then, but distinctly limited.

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1982
Publisher: Random House