States of Plague

Reading Albert Camus in a Pandemic

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Pub Date 31 Oct 2022 | Archive Date 01 Oct 2022

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Description

States of Plague examines Albert Camus’s novel as a palimpsest of  pandemic life, an uncannily relevant account of the psychology and politics of a public health crisis.

As one of the most discussed books of the COVID-19 crisis, Albert Camus’s classic novel The Plague has become a new kind of literary touchstone. Surrounded by terror and uncertainty, often separated from loved ones or unable to travel, readers sought answers within the pages of Camus’s 1947 tale about an Algerian city gripped by an epidemic. Many found in it a story about their own lives—a book to shed light on a global health crisis.

In thirteen linked chapters told in alternating voices, Alice Kaplan and Laura Marris hold the past and present of The Plague in conversation, discovering how the novel has reached people in their current moment.  Kaplan’s chapters explore the book’s tangled and vivid history, while Marris’s are drawn to the ecology of landscape and language. Through these pages, they find that their sense of Camus evolves under the force of a new reality, alongside the pressures of illness, recovery, concern, and care in their own lives. Along the way, Kaplan and Marris examine how the novel’s original allegory might resonate for a new generation of readers who have experienced a global pandemic.  They describe how they learned to contemplate the skies of a plague spring, to examine the body politic and the politics of immunity.

Both personal and eloquently written, States of Plague uncovers for us the mysterious way a novel can imagine the world during a crisis and draw back the veil on other possible futures.
States of Plague examines Albert Camus’s novel as a palimpsest of  pandemic life, an uncannily relevant account of the psychology and politics of a public health crisis.

As one of the most discussed...

Advance Praise

“I thought I knew both The Plague and what it brings to the story of our own plague experience. After reading Kaplan and Marris’s States of Plague, I realize I could not have been more mistaken. This is a brilliant book that is always eloquent, often insightful, and, at times, simply heartbreaking.”—Robert Zaretsky, author of Victories Never Last: Reading and Caregiving in a Time of Plague

“Turning the intensity of a lockdown gaze on The Plague, Kaplan and Marris restore to Camus's constrained and unsettling allegory a world of associations, from occupied Paris in World War II to crumbling colonial cemeteries in Algiers. These erudite but highly personal reflections spiral outward from careful readings of the novel, relieving the mind like the ventilation of a long-closed room.”—Emily Ogden, author of On Not Knowing: How to Love and Other Essays

“In States of Plague, Kaplan and Marris combine their thought-provoking personal impressions with brilliant critical analyses based on the novel’s wealth of cultural, historical, and political contexts. Their complementary readings function both as a helpful introduction to The Plague and eye-opening observations about the novel’s contemporary relevance.”—Raymond Gay-Crosier, emeritus, University of Florida

“I thought I knew both The Plague and what it brings to the story of our own plague experience. After reading Kaplan and Marris’s States of Plague, I realize I could not have been more mistaken. This...


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EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9780226815534
PRICE $20.00 (USD)
PAGES 152

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Featured Reviews

States of Plague: Reading Albert Camus in a Pandemic, by Alice Kaplan and Laura Marris, was an eye-opening read for me, combining literary criticism with personal experience and all points in between.

A lot of the best literary criticism includes some elements of the author's personal life, whether interactions with the text or other lived experiences. Yet they often do a bit of one then a bit of the other without a great deal of really weaving them together. Which works quite well, the personal is usually used as a springboard into the textual criticism. Here, however, the entwining of the personal and the literary criticism, of the literary and the cultural criticism, and of two writers doing those things, makes this an exceptional example of how a text can speak to so many people and situations.

As I often do when reading a book like this, I reread the text being examined. In this case, twice, once before reading this book and again after, mainly because I felt like it was a completely different book (or I was a completely different reader). Rereading The Plague before this book was something that really spoke to me. I tried to remember as much as I could of historical context but it was mostly my interaction with the text while living through a pandemic. Reading this book expanded, through their personal experiences, my personal engagement with Camus' text. But it was the actual literary criticism, juxtaposed with what the world is experiencing right now, that really made both this book and Camus' book come alive for me. So reading it again after this book gave me more insight and brought me to several new ways of thinking about certain characters and scenes.

I would recommend this to any reader who has an interest in Camus' The Plague, whether because of our pandemic, its literary value, or a combination of the two. I would suggest, unless you're intimately familiar with it, reading The Plague before reading this, you will get so much more out of it. That said, I think as long as you remember the novel in general, Kaplan and Marris will still offer you new ways to understand our world as well as the world of the work.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

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The recent Covid pandemic resulted in renewed interest in Albert Camus’ novel The Plague and many read it or re-read it and afterwards discussed its relevance to our contemporary world, eager to discover whether it could illuminate our current predicament. Certainly I re-read it and found it resonated strongly with me. Alice Kaplan and Laura Marris have written individual responses to the novel and in alternating chapters offer short essays on the book’s history, significance and relevance. A combination of literary criticism and analysis, sociology, history and personal experience, the book is a thoughtful, insightful and interesting exploration of Camus’ writing and I very much enjoyed it. Recommended for literary scholars and lay-readers alike; there’s something for everyone here.

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