Camus, Albert. The First Man. Translated by David Hapgood. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1995.
First Man opens with Henri Cormery, the new manager of the Saint-Apotre property seeking help for his wife, in labor with their second child. But, the meat of the transcript is the son, Jacques Cormery, looking to understand he father he never met. With a deaf-mute mother and a contradictory tyrannical grandmother, Jacques’s quest for knowledge is slow-going. Henri Cormery died in combat when Jacques was just an infant and the women in his family are reluctant to remember anything. Most of the story centers on Jacques in the formative years, his education, his religion, his poverty and of course, his mother and grandmother. While most of the story centers on the bleakness of poverty and the restrictions placed upon Jacques because of that poverty, I liked the sly sense of humor Camus inserted throughout the story. Take this dialogue, for example: “How is it going?” “I don’t know, I especially don’t go in where the women are.” “Good rule…Particularly when when are crying…” (p 15). It just goes to show you that emotional women still drive men nuts. What I didn’t appreciate in First Man was how confusing an unfinished transcript could be. On page 8 Jacques’s mother’s name is Lucie, but by page 90 she is Catherine. Then there were the hundreds and hundreds of reference notes. It made reading slow and plodding at times.
As an aside, I have to laugh. Because I have been thinking of this as Camus’s last book I have been calling it The Last Man. Go figure!
Quotes I like, “She said yes, maybe it was no; she had to reach back in time through a clouded memory, nothing was certain” (p 80).
Reason read: June 19th is the anniversary of Revolution Day in Algeria.
Author fact: Camus’s daughter is instrumental in getting this work published. Even his wife wouldn’t release it to the public.
Book trivia: This is Camus’s last work. The handwritten manuscript was found with him after his fatal car accident in 1960. I think it is fitting that First Man is the last book written by Camus that I will read for the Challenge.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “North African Notes: Algeria” (p 159).