Narrative Medicine Book Club: March 30th, 2020

Welcome to day one of the Narrative Medicine book club! We will be reading at the pace of about seven pages per day, depending on your chosen edition and mode of reading: print, electronic, or audible book. For today, Monday March 30th, 2020, we will be reading up to the sentence: “he wanted to know if the journalist could tell the truth.”

Remember – no need to register to join us, and don’t worry if you don’t have the book yet! We will be reading very slowly, so it will be easy to catch up, and because the club is virtual, you can follow along at your own pace. Feel free to join the discussion here, or just use #NMBookClub and #CamusThePlague to post comments or questions and follow along on social media. Later this week we will announce our first virtual Zoom meeting for those who want to discuss in person.

Some initial thoughts on today’s reading: 

“Camus very carefully sets up this fictional town, Oran, as an “ordinary,” “neutral” place, a “town without inklings,” “an entirely modern town” – and as such, a town where it is difficult to die. He says this on page 2! I wonder how many of you recognized our capitalist society in this description on the second page. What do you think this brief introduction does for the book, the way we enter the novel, as the narrator sets us up to enter the “history” he is giving us? (Also, given our moment, did anyone else feel a chill of terror when the concierge holds the dead rats by their tails? Wash your hands, concierge!)” – Nellie Hermann

Please feel free to add to the discussion and join in with Nellie below, or on any of our social media channels!

For tomorrow, March 31st 2020, read next seven pages, up to: “He was now complaining of internal pains.”

7 thoughts on “Narrative Medicine Book Club: March 30th, 2020

  1. The beginning caught my attention with the words unusual events and somewhat extraordinary character, espeically given the ordinary, bland, asleep nature of the town – even its smell was flat. The tone shifted when the narrator told of his buisness was to recount events like a historian. He built up suspense with increasing numbers of dead rats discarded in the overflowing trash. Gradually we are introduced to Dr. R whose character emerges while he tends to his patients, thinks about his wife, is relieved by his mother’s arrival. I loved the sentence, “The smile that escorted him to the door.” when he left his wife at home.
    Having attended the first Zoom meeting last night, I could not help but think of the prompt: Meanwhile the world goes on – as I read this first section. Gross, bloody, infected rats are under foot and the good Dr. continues with rounds. Patricia from Canada
    PS I am tempted to read the book in French as well to see if the translation is accurate.


  2. Anne C.

    I was also struck by the opening description Oran. Although it was an “entirely modern town” it lacked so much that would give it a true identity by phrases like “the uninspiring surroundings.” But I think it was this passage “all we regret is the town’s being so disposed that it turns its back on the bay, with the result that it’s impossible to see the sea, you always have to go look for it’, that made me consider this ominous atmosphere of normalcy. By not exulting in the panorama of the bay and the open horizon of the sea it leads me to suspect a townspeople that are so consumed with daily business they can’ appreciate beauty or possibility. Thus unable to heed the signs of a coming epidemic. All too analogous to our own current experience.


    • Patricia D.

      Dr. R vacillates from denial, to recognition, and then back to minimizing the clear and present danger. He notes, briefly, his own nervous exhaustion – but does nothing to relieve himself. He takes not precautions (for himself) despite suggesting isolating patients. He does not insist when a bureaucratic excuse is given not to protect the public. Of the characters presented thus far, he catchs my attention the most.
      The weather change is like a warning of darkness to come. “trapped by the climate” As I read, I feel dread.
      The vivid descriptions of rats and dying men are enough to disrupt my sleep tonight! How interesting that the press was ready to report on dead rats but not dead men. Why might that be? In our current situation, the news is obsessed to Covid-19 numbers.


  3. Patricia

    I noticed how Dr. R’s attitude changed as a dead rat became a dead M. Michel. I observe him as I watch our doctors prepare for the peak of Covid-19 in Montreal – our city now tops the charts in Canada for number of cases. We are “fortunate” to have learned lessons from Europe so that denial and minimization (Dr. R) are not preventing us from taking action now.


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