Quarantine Club: Part Five of The Plague



A. It's darkly funny that Camus has these two talking this way, considering neither of them survive.

B. Where's the contradiction? I read this as almost the thesis statement of the book, its reason for existing: his bearing witness is the text of the book. It's nice to hear from the author (and simultaneously the narrator) that "there are more things to admire in men than to despise." It puts the bad actors -- Paneloux, Cottard -- in proportion with the good ones (Rieux, Rambert, Tarrou).

C. It's one of the best in the book, and reminds me of the present. It's as if we're all experiencing this alluded to future disease: "perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again." Except the rat this time is the president.

D. "I've cut out all the adjectives."


A. I think we'll have to have a series of fresh starts, as we experiment to find how to adjust our social distancing over time. We'll start allowing schools & more workplaces to reopen, eventually, while being vigilant about signs they need to close again. At least I hope so.

B. I think Andrea is pointing out the tension between recognizing the intolerable injustices done by humans to humans, while somehow not ending up a total misanthrope. It's a reasonable point, and even if the narrator manages to emerge from the quarantine thinking "there are more things to admire in men than to despise," I'm not positive Camus agrees with him.

C. It's a powerful sentence, but I'm left skeptical. Rieux thinks the population is foolish and doesn't realize the plague will return some day. But I think humans aren't foolish when they celebrate good times, even knowing they will all die someday. I figure that their joyous jubilation is well-deserved, and doesn't necessarily reflect the population's ignorance. That said, I'm feeling a bit the misanthrope myself these days -- there's so much stupidity and needless suffering! I just don't fault people for celebrating a brief break in all that suffering.

D. "She only effaced herself a trifle more than usual, and when I looked round she was no longer there."

I did have a question of my own, about this sentence: " In short, they denied that we had ever been that hag-ridden populace a part of which was daily fed into a furnace and went up in oily fumes, while the rest, in shackled impotence, waited their turn."

Those lines, published shortly after WWII, seem to speak directly about Jews in death camps. Don't they? How much is the whole book about the Holocaust? Or does it not matter, because humans are endlessly awful to each other, and endlessly having to find ways to be less shitty and actually help reduce people's suffering?

Those thoughts led me to this podcast, though I haven't listened to it yet, just read the adapted transcript: https://wagingnonviolence.org/podcast/albert-camus-the-plague-nonviolent-resistance-rescue-wwii-coronavirus/
The background on Camus's wartime years is really fascinating:
"with the Nazis quickly responding to the [Allied] invasion [of North Africa] by occupying Southern France, Camus was now trapped. Days later, in his notebook, he drove the point home further, writing down the phrase 'Like rats!'"

The piece also describes "an old friend of Camus’ — a Jewish French Algerian named André Chouraqui, who lived on the plateau during the war... Chouraqui did clandestine work for the Jewish relief organization Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants. … 'Of course Camus knew everything that was going on.'"

I'm really glad to have been nudged to read The Plague, and to read everyone else in the Quarantine Club's perspectives on it. Thank you, Christopher, for organizing!


And thank you, Andrea, for the questions!


@2 --

B. Ahhh, but of course. Yes, that is definitely a contradiction.
D. Yeah that sentence practically made my heart stop. And... re: "Like rats!" -- holy shit, didn't know that. Thanks for bringing amazing supplemental material to these conversations.


@1 -- I protest, Christopher!
I know you've been working flat out, and I know I'm being selfish, but it's been such a delight reading with you -- your essays in response to each section of the Plague, and the comments from Erica and Andrea and the unchickeny Chicken and everyone else who's been reading along -- that my comment now was going to be "What's the next book? Whatever you decide on, count me in."
Instead, here's a deep bow in acknowledgment of what a pleasure it's been, especially at a time like this. And of course huge thanks.
But not, ingrate that I am, for Part Five of The Plague. Here's what I scribbled in my copy: "A let-down? Anti-climax? The language not so terse, more blowsy..." (At least I think the word is blowsy -- my handwriting's so bad I'm not quite sure.)
That was pretty severe, so I leafed through it again just now and came away with the same feeling. To me, it's as though Camus had gotten tired of the story, and wanted to wrap it up already -- to get to that brilliant last paragraph, which I strongly suspect he wrote before anything else in Part Five (and maybe even before anything else in the whole book). Especially the deadpan last few words: "it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city."
Spine chills!
But Tarrou's deathbed scene seemed oddly Dickensian to me -- overly sentimental for Camus, surely. And the whole question of a "fresh start" -- sorry, Andrea -- seemed to over-reach in a "moral-of-the-story-is" kind of way. So is there such a thing as a "fresh start"? The optimist in me likes to think so; the pessimist scoffs and says "be real." The truth? -- I have no idea.


I’m tapped out, going out with a fizzle, instead of a bang. I finished this and was thrilled to move on a few weeks ago - the new Samantha Irby was the light at the end of this Camus tunnel. All that to say, I’m so glad to have read this and read others’ comments. I will say that the last sentence was what I’d anticipated the whole time, it could not have ended another way, and it was appropriately absurd and terrible. See you at the SRP!


A: A fresh start in my city? Hard to say. I live in Mexico City, and both the city and country were very slow to react, with our pretty dim president and our governor both were very late to make closures. The president was making a show of hugging and kissing people and telling them that love would prevent C19 early on. Then reality set in, and last week some hospitals were turning people away. My wife is pregnant, so we have been staying in since March 13, but the late reaction means that there will be a late reopening – there is speculation that it won’t be until August. We have a much larger informal economy here, and these are people I wonder about as well as the obvious: restaurants, stores, etc. We have had to drive a couple of times, to go to the hospital for an ultrasound, for example, and people at intersections who sell things and clean windows have gotten much more aggressive, understandably, with fewer people out. How long will they be able to stick it out? What will happen to them? I ride, or maybe used to ride, public transportation to work. I am not sure if that will continue. My wife and I have made lists of restaurants we want to visit when it is over, but we also talk about which restaurants may disappear.

B. I don’t think there is a contradiction. While I think it is true that there is much to admire in humanity along with much to condemn, to me the bigger question is that of what will change when it’s all over. For example, we see pictures of animals returning to beaches that they had long abandoned because of human activity. We see pollution in steep decline, and huge tankers of oil sitting off of the coast while the price of oil goes negative – people will literally pay you to take it off of their hands, if you can store it. I marvel at this stuff, I think others do to, and imagine what changed we could make to ensure that some of the positive benefits remain. But I think that is wishful thinking. One of the things not to admire about humanity is the drive to return to normalcy and complacence, getting and spending.

C. The more things change, the more things stay the same. C19 will be around as well, and will no doubt rear its ugly head again.

D. I liked the anthropomorphic description of the decline of the plague, on p 270 in mine, at the beginning of the section: “Its setbacks with seemingly predestined victims, like Grand and Rieux’s girl patient, its bursts of activity for two or three days in some districts synchronizing with its total disappearance from others, its new practice of multiplying victims on, say, a Monday, and on a Wednesday letting almost all escape – in short, is accesses of violence followed by spells of complete inactivity – all these things gave an impression that its energy was flagging, out of exhaustion and exasperation, and it was losing, with its self-command, the ruthless, almost mathematical efficiency that had been its trump card hitherto.” Reminded me of the MO of a serial killer, but also reinforced what (who?) was the villain. And maybe we should come up with a second definition of Trump card?

One of the fascinating elements of the novel, at least to me, is the parochial nature of the plague. It’s in a town, and the town is quarantined. There is no discussion of national politics, at least not that I remember, in any significant way. The current plague is all about national politics. And in Washington it seems that every layer – nation, state, county, city – is involved. This plague was kept within the walls of a single city, and it meant that the discussions of the characters were generally, “what do we do here?” I'll also reiterate that I still think it's bizarre that this novel takes place in Algerian seemingly without Algerians.

I also agree with @6 Maaaaaags – literally two weeks between parts 4 and 5 was a huge disruption, and I waited until I couldn’t to finish the book. It was frustrating, especially since there was no message about postponement and, let’s face it, reading 40 pages and commenting – or handing off to someone else to comment – shouldn’t take that much time. Then again, I keep thinking I will have all of this extra time to do things since I am stuck at home, and then never get around to them. Quarantining is like that, I guess.

It’s been a pleasure, and I hope someone (@5 the Accidental Theologist, I am looking at you!) starts the Tarrou and Rieux Midnight Swim Club somewhere. I’ll join when I can. As for the next book – many of mine are in my office at work, and I’m not going to the library to find something I don’t have, and I’m iffy about ordering anything online as I never get things delivered to my residence. I wish everyone the best, and thanks again to all!


I haven’t been commenting recently as I finished the book on the original schedule and the details of each section were not as fresh when they came up fo discussion, however, my impression of the end is quite clear to me: how appropriately anticlimactic that the resolution to a return to the normal, even while recognizing that this is nearly one in a string of many infections.

The Quarantine Club was a great beginning to sheltering-in-place, so Christopher, thank you so much for starting this group. I am disappointed that you will cast us aside, but I do recognize that Corona Time has many different aspects. For me it has been a gift of spare time to dig into projects for which I don’t usually have the necessary long stretches of uninterrupted time, but or many it has taken demanding jobs and made them harder or added crushing insecurity.

Best wishes to all.


@5 @8 -- I wish you two were in my book-club class at Hugo House. We do it over Zoom. We're reading a Muriel Spark novel and it's fabulous. But we're about to have our last class. What if... maybe... I do a similar book club/class over Zoom through The Stranger, and that could be the new form this book club takes? Would you be interested in something like that?

@7 -- I am so down for the Tarrou and Rieux Midnight Swim Club.


@ 6 -- See you at the reading party!


@7 -- the Tarrou and Rieux Midnight Swim Club: oh yes! Fervid mind already working on possibilities. In person? Zoom? Watery audio for John Osebold to play with? (https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2020/03/21/43209097/a-message-to-the-city-from-john-osebold)

@9, Christopher -- "Oh yes!" again. Any form this book club takes, am up for it/down with it/every which way with it.

See you Wednesday at the SRP.
(Currently reading: Daniel Kehlmann's 'Tyll' -- a trickstery delight.)


@9 Christopher I would be interested in the Zoom Book Club and may have a few people to bring along with me.


@11 @12 -- Wow, your enthusiasm means the world to me. OK, I am on it. There is a novel I just taught that I would love to offer as a Stranger book club on Zoom. I'm pitching it to the bosses right now!