When the idea first occurred to me to start a coronavirus book club, The Stranger had a full staff, we were still putting out a print edition, and stores and restaurants were open for business. Feels like a century ago.
In the intervening month and a half, we laid off much of our staff, launched a daily series of messages to the city that I curate, launched the worldwide silent-reading party (which I have been delighted to see some of you at), and published an online-only edition of our cannabis magazine that I created all by myself (our cannabis writers and our entire art department were laid off), in addition to my other Stranger writing. Plus, I'm teaching a class on Muriel Spark at Hugo House on the side.
All of which is to say: I'm sorry I'm so late on this last Quarantine Club post!! Things have been kooky.
As much as I have enjoyed rereading Camus's novel (maybe "enjoyed" is the wrong word after the misery and the bleeding rats and the group burials), it is the connection with each of you, members of this club, that has been most rewarding about this book club experiment.
The emails I've gotten from people all over the world, the pictures of all your reading chairs, the pictures of ducks and cats you sent to cheer me up after Part Three, and the brilliant comments you've been leaving on the posts—even when I forget to reply to them!—have restored my hope for civilization.
But nothing has touched me as deeply as Andrea's generosity during all this. She offered to make face masks for anyone in the club who wanted one, and when I raised my hand and said I needed one, she made not one, not two, but three different face masks (!!!) and sent them to me.
Andrea was a generous and friendly classmate back when we were in grad school together, but she's really outdone herself. Look!
For some reason, the barbershop quartet pattern was calling to me the most—perhaps because I was once in the barbershop quartet in a production of The Music Man—and it is the one I have worn the most so far.
Andrea didn't know about my barbershop quartet past, but she did know that one of my favorite novels is To the Lighthouse, and it just so happens that she sewed the last line of that novel into a seam of the barbershop quartet mask. (She also sewed a sentence from The Great Gatsby, her favorite novel, into the poker mask.) The sentence by Virginia Woolf written onto the barbershop fabric isn't visible anymore now that the mask has been assembled, but Andrea snapped a pic of the mask in progress.
I don't even know how to explain what this means to me. There are no words. But one thing I noticed in The Plague, and one thing I've noticed in life, is that terrible times draw the best out of people. (Or at least, they draw the best out of the good people, and the worst out of the bad people. Cottard becoming a gun nut and shooting people in the street—a deadly version of that old man who spits on cats in the beginning of the novel—is a grim example.)
Other than my frustration with Camus for not including any fully realized women characters (several of you have pointed this out, and I'm ashamed to say I hadn't noticed previously), and my sadness about Tarrou being wiped out by the plague right as people were starting to get better (especially after that glorious swimming passage in Part Four), and my curiosity about why so many of the character names rhyme (Rieux, Paneloux, Tarrou), I didn't have many ideas of what to talk about for this final meeting of our club.
But guess who offered to write some discussion questions for us? Andrea! I called her to thank her for my masks, and for making them for others in the club as well, and she very sweetly inquired about whether I had had time to read Part Five and write up some discussion questions because this last blog post was so very late, and I when I confessed that I hadn't yet, she offered to write some. Amazing.
The questions Andrea wrote for us all are below. I'm going to jump into the comments and give my answers there just like everyone else.
As for the club generally: I don't have the capacity to keep the Quarantine Club going for now, especially because of the way the silent-reading party is blowing up, wildly exceeding our expectations, and the related marketing projects I'm undertaking to try to get the whole world to join us there, but I would be very happy to see each of you there, and I would be thrilled if you told your friends about it. My dream is to get the whole world to set aside two hours a week to read. It meets every Wednesday right now, 6 pm PST, and there's more info about it here and tickets for the next three parties right here.
Okay, back to The Plague...
A) As the plague retreats and the city gates are prepared for opening, Tarrou looks forward to "a return to normal life" (p. 227), while Cottard believes the life of the town will be changed. He suggests that "...everyone will have to make a fresh start." Any thoughts on what "a fresh start" might look like in your town/city?
B) Dr. Rieux is our narrator, a healer who hopes to "bear witness in favour of those plague-stricken people; so that some memorial of the injustice and outrage done them might endure; and to state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise" (p. 251). Is there a contradiction here? If so, how do you reconcile those two points?
C) That last sentence! What do you make of it?
D) Favorite sentence.