“The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind.” (Humphrey Bogart)

This post is my contribution to the 1947 Club, hosted by Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a Book, do check out their blogs and join in!

1947-club-pink

Firstly, In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B Hughes, which I was inspired to pick up after reading Jacqui’s excellent review. Dix Steele is a war veteran who has recently moved to LA. He runs into one of his army buddies, Brub, who updates Dix on his career choice since the army:

“He came sharply into focus. The word had been a cold spear deliberately thrust into his brain. He heard his voice speak the cold, hard word. ‘Policeman?’ But they didn’t notice anything. They thought him surprised, as he was, more than surprised, startled and shocked.”

Why the problem with Brub being a policeman? Brub is investigating a strangler who is terrorising the young women of the city. Dix is intrigued by this and carefully questions his friend on the investigation, gleaning as much information as he dare. The third-person narration is from Dix’s point of view and we are privy to his disturbing thoughts, including his attitude to the strangler’s latest victim:

“The only exciting thing that had ever happened to her was to be raped and murdered. Even then she’d only been subbing for someone else.”

It emerges then, that Dix is a deeply disturbed human being.  He is filled with anger, and feels alienated from the rich society of LA (although he is staying in a stylish apartment loaned from a friend, whose car, clothes and accounts he has also appropriated) and from the marital happiness he sees between Brub and his wife, although he is dating a beautiful actress, Laurel Gray:

“To hell with happiness. More important was excitement and power and the hot stir of lust. Those made you forget. They made happiness a pink marshmallow.”

In a Lonely Place works well as thriller, it is tightly written and the narrative tension is maintained. However, like Highsmith’s Ripley novels, it also works extremely well as a character study of a complex human being. Dix is not likeable, but at the same time he is damaged and lonely, unable to see a way out of his desperation.

“He was there for a long time. Lost in a world of swirling fog and crashing wave, a world empty of all but these things and his grief and the keening of the fog horn at sea. Lost in a lonely place. And the red knots tightened in his brain.”

I thought I knew the story as I had studied the 1950 film at university, but in fact the film is very different. It is a wonderful film noir, and because of the significant plot changes, it doesn’t matter which you experience first. I recommend both the book and the film of In a Lonely Place:

Secondly The Plague (La Peste) by Albert Camus, which I read in the English translation by Stuart Gilbert (1948). Set in the Algerian coastal city of Oran, it is one more stop on my Around the World in 80 Books Reading Challenge, hosted by Hard Book Habit. The story begins with the rats of the city gruesomely dying in abundance.

“It was as if the earth on which our houses stood were being purged of its secreted humours – thrusting up to the surface the abscesses and pus-clots that had been forming in its entrails. You must picture the consternation of our little town, hitherto so tranquil, and now, out of the blue, shaken to its core”

Yuck,yuck,yuck. Told by a narrator who doesn’t identify himself (there are no women in this tale) until the end, The Plague recounts the experience of Dr Rieux who works treating the victims; Grand, who works on his novel but never gets beyond constantly re-writing the first line; Cottard, who is suicidal before the plague but reinvigorated by the outbreak; Rambert who was only visiting Oran for work but now finds himself trapped, and a handful of other citizens. The Plague is told in a deceptively simple style, and captures the oppressive atmosphere of a town trapped in quarantine, where you might die at any moment:

“Thus, in a middle course between these heights and depths, they drifted through life rather than lived, the prey of aimless days and sterile memories, like wandering shadows that could have acquired substance only by consenting to root themselves in the solid earth of their distress.”

Amongst this desperation there is also surprising humour (Camus was associated with absurdism):

“One of the cafes had the brilliant idea of putting up a slogan: ‘The best protection against infection is a bottle of good wine’, which confirmed an already prevalent opinion that alcohol is a safeguard against infectious disease.”

And with regard to the officials of the town:

“That, in fact, was what struck one most – the excellence of their intentions. But as regards plague their competence was practically nil.”

Yet of course this was written by one of the foremost philosophers of the twentieth century, and so there is more to this tale than the plague in Oran. It has been read as an allegory for French resistance to Nazism but it is wider than any one reading.

“What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men rise above themselves. All the same, when you see the misery it brings, you’d need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague.”

While they don’t give in, the reactions to the plague by the characters are various but also oddly subdued – there is very little panic or revolt. The desperation is quiet but Camus shows the tragedy of this as life goes on under the shadow of an indiscriminate threat: “the habit of despair is worse than despair itself”.

The Plague is a remarkable novel, straightforward yet complex, that would lend itself to repeated re-readings, and which is both bleak yet hopeful. Thus when Camus writes:

 “each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth, is free from it”

He is pointing out the common humanity which unites as well as the plague of existence.

I don’t want to end a blog post with the phrase ‘plague of existence’ so instead I’ll end it with the phrase chuckles of stardust.

… and a song written in 1947 (this performance from 1962) which suggests it’s all OK really:

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23 thoughts on ““The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind.” (Humphrey Bogart)

  1. Well, you have convinced me that it’s worth grappling with the microscopic print in my copy of ‘The Plague’ after all, but not until I’ve both read and watched ‘In a Lonely Place’ – what a trailer! I was on the edge of my seat – not least for the fabulous outfits – and Humphrey Bogart is as magnificent as ever *sigh* they don’t make ’em like they used to! 🙂

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  2. I have just finished reading In a Lonely Place (about an hour ago) I haven’t seen the film though and can’t quite see Bogey in the role even though I love him. He’s continually described as a young man, but HB isn’t that young at that time.

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    • Absolutely! Usually if I’ve seen the film first, I have those characters in mind when I read the book but in this instance the film didn’t impact in that way, because the Dix of the book is so different – the film made major changes. The film is only an adaptation in the very loosest sense of the word…

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  3. I see no problem with ending a post with the term ‘plague of existence’ :-). I’ve read The Plague a couple of times and like it nearly as much as The Outsider.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Of course Dix Steele has a mate called Brub. Maybe this book will get me out of my woeful thriller-rut?

    In regards to The Plague, you lost me at pus-clots. I do not consider myself as someone with a weak stomach – I love nothing more than those A&E tv shows where people turn up at hospital with a screwdriver threw their foot, or a cyst in their stomach holding more fluid than an Olympic swimming pool. BUT there are a few words that make my toes curl: pus, lance (as in ‘lance a boil’), and moist. Unfortunately those three horror words can all be used together… yuck, yuck, yuck.

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  5. I’ve been reading about the real plague a lot recently so I am very excited to get to Camus, it sounds wonderfully horrible! And chuckles of stardust sounds like you’ve been secretly eating glitter, and when you laugh you betray your craft supply habit.

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  6. For some reason, you were thrown out of my feeder. 😦 Thankfully, I noticed it today, and now that I read your review I can totally agree with everything you say about Hughes’ novel — right down to the slightly strange names. Too bad that she’s not more widely read; I will certainly look for more of her books. (And now I will look up what oleaginous means…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no, and I behaved so well in your feeder too – I’m glad they’ve let me back in! I’ll look out for more Hughes books as well – this is the first I’ve read, and i’d not heard of her before.

      Oleaginous is a particularly useful addition to vocabulary when watching political debates, I find 😉

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  7. Lovely review, madame bibi! And thanks for the pingback, much appreciated. Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley makes for an excellent comparison with the Hughes as both books share a similar focus on the rather disturbed psychology of their central character. I really loved the way In a Lonely Place was written. The style was so atmospheric and absorbing, it was a joy to read. Interestingly, even though the two forms are quite different, I still had Bogart and Gloria Grahame in my mind for Dix and Laurel. They are simply synonymous with those characters for me!

    Oh, and apologies for the slightly late comment. Technically I’m on holiday till next week, but I had a little bit of spare time this morning to catch up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome Jacqui, it was your great review which sent me in this direction 🙂 I totally agree, its so atmospheric, I really felt transported to a seedy post-war LA.

      I could still see Laurel as Gloria Grahame, but Dix really changed for me in the book. Both the film and book are wonderful though!

      Hope you are having a lovely holiday 🙂

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  8. Pingback: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” (Maya Angelou) | madame bibi lophile recommends

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