Sunday, 20 March 2011

Pick up a Penguin

I’ve mentioned charity shops on here before as the source of many an interesting and cheap item of clothing in my student years, and whilst they seem no longer to be a treasure-trove of Parisian-print dresses or ‘60s slingbacks, occasionally you can just stumble across something else that’s good for little more than the price of a Mars Bar.  This lovely Penguin paperback is one of them, found recently in Oxfam.

I’m developing a bit of a weakness for these forty-plus-year-old Penguin paperbacks with their orange spines and well-thumbed pages.  You know they’ve been loved before, indulged and enjoyed.  Sometimes there’s an inscription, in faded blue fountain pen ink perhaps, that teases you to wonder more about their previous lives on bookshelves you’ll never know.  As with my beautiful early copy of ‘Absolute Beginners’ which I wrote about in a previous post, this rather wonderfully worn and jaundiced 1966 edition of ‘Exile and The Kingdom’ just has that certain something (that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’…)  So much has been published about Albert Camus -  journalist, author, philosopher, pacifist, Nobel Prize winner for Literature, and a good deal more - it seems extraneous for me to write a lot here but I have to say that on starting this collection of his short stories I am hooked, and keen to read the rest of his work.

I especially like the theme of exile in these stories, the plight of those who feel alone or that they don't fit in some way, be it physically, psychologically or spiritually.  In these short and fairly simple tales, Camus depicts, amongst others,  a French woman in Algeria feeling isolated not only by her surroundings but also by her passionless marriage, an Arab prisoner who has been transferred to a desert outpost before his delivery to prison, and a group of men returning to their factory after being on strike.  Camus satisfyingly and skilfully evokes both emotion and environment with great power; I’m looking forward to reading them all.

I’ve enjoyed finding out more about Camus and his life.  There are some rock’n’roll connections which tickle my fancy too - The Manic Street Preachers were open about his influence (and Nicky Wire dedicated the song ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ to him), Mark E Smith named his band The Fall after a Camus novel, the Cure’s song ‘Killing An Arab’ was described by Robert Smith as being “…a short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments in ‘L'Étranger’”.  And, as was pointed out to me recently, the philosopher does bear a bit of a resemblance to Joe Strummer…

Oh, I love how 50p spent in a charity shop can take you down a little road of cultural education – an even better way to help you work, rest and play than any piece of chocolate confectionary.

And if you can spot the rather tenuous connection to this, award yourself a Mars Bar (you could even make it a king-size one).

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer" Albert Camus

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