Last work of Camus sees light of day

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The Independent Online
A NEW French novel went on sale yesterday, 34 years after it was written. Incomplete, it is the fourth by the man who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957: Albert Camus. After Camus, author of La Peste (The Plague) and L'Etranger (The Outsider), was killed in a road accident outside Paris in 1960, police found a case in a field a few yards away. Inside was the manuscript of Le Premier Homme (The First Man), an autobiographical account of Camus's childhood in Algeria.

The accident, when Camus was 46, cut short the career of someone who had become a myth in his own lifetime, a man derided by left-wing intellectuals because of a quarrel with Jean-Paul Sartre, an all-rounder with services to the theatre, journalism and fiction. Le Premier Homme, edited by Camus's daughter, Catherine, took so long to be published because of family objections. The original text had notes in the margin reminding the author to change first names. In a preface, Catherine Camus says the original 'sometimes had no commas or full stops. It was hastily written and difficult to decipher.'

The published version, 250 pages of text with 50 pages of Camus' notes, carries the occasional editor's footnote explaining that a word was illegible. The name of the mother of Jacques Cormery, modelled on Camus, starts off as 'Lucie' and changes to 'Catherine'.

Billed by one reviewer as Camus's 'confessions', the book tells the tale of a boy living in a poor pied noir, or settler, family who grew up never knowing his father, who was killed in the First World War. The boy finally visits the grave of his father when he, the son, is older than his father was at his death.

The publication of Le Premier Homme has not yet stirred the French public imagination, although academics predict that a Camus revival is on the horizon. The few advance reviews that have appeared said the book should give an insight into a man who was misunderstood in the suave literary circles of metropolitan France into which fame pushed him.

Camus drives home the geographical background to his origins from the first page. The second sentence of the manuscript has clouds which pass over 'Moroccan crests, re-grouping into flocks over the high plateaux of Algeria, and now, on the approaches to the Tunisian frontier, try to reach the Tyrrhenian sea in which to lose themselves'.

Leading article, page 17

Extract from a 'confession'

'Pierre, in eight years at the lycee, was never put in detention. But Jacques, too boisterous and also too vain, collected detentions. It was all very well explaining to his grandmother that the punishments concerned behaviour, she could not draw a distinction between stupidity and bad behaviour. For her a good pupil had to be virtuous and well behaved; virtue led straight to knowledge.'

(Photograph omitted)