“A cold, wet place where a thick blanket of fog constantly hangs over the crowded, neon-light-lined streets” – this is how Albert Camus describes Amsterdam in his philosophical novel entitled The Fall.
And he goes further: “Have you noticed that Amsterdam’s concentric canals resemble the circles of hell? The middle-class hell, of course, peopled with bad dreams. When one comes from the outside, as one gradually goes through those circles, life — and hence its crimes — becomes denser, darker. Here, we are in the last circle.” This last circle is actually the area of Amsterdam`s Red Light District, where, in a bar named Mexico City, Jean-Baptiste Clamence unfolds his narration night after night.
The Fall consists of a series of dramatic monologues by this Parisian expatriate, a former renowned lawyer, as he reflects upon his life to a stranger – the reader himself. This confession is about how we all make judgments and how wrong judgments can haunt our lives. The falling from grace becomes the leit-motif of the entire novel.
Clamence tells us that he used to lead an essentially perfect life in Paris as a highly successful and well-respected defense lawyer. The vast majority of his work centered around “widow and orphan” cases, that is the poor who otherwise would be unable to provide themselves with a proper defense before the law. Clamence conceived of himself as living purely for the sake of others, his reward being virtue itself.
But then something happens (the suicide of a young girl that the lawyer could stop but didn`t because it would mean to get his own life at risk) and the consequences on Clemence`s consciousness are devastating. Becoming aware of his own hypocrisy and blamed by the same society he used to stand for (the society he cares about does not equally care about him), he leaves for Amsterdam, the city below sea level, which might seem a strange choice, considering the fear of low, narrow places he is suffering from: “I have never felt comfortable,” he explains, “except in lofty surroundings. Even in the details of daily life, I need to feel above.”
Here is a very good recension of the book that will for sure make you want to read it.