The narrative is set in the red-light district of Amsterdam and is delivered during the course of 5 days by a man who calls himself Jean-Baptiste Clamence. He addresses himself to a Parisian lawyer who has wandered into a bar called Mexico City. Clamence ingeniously draws his listener into complicity with his own life, which he proceeds to outline.
Before becoming the expatriate barfly that he seems today, Clamence was a supremely successful and self-confident defense attorney in Paris. However, his faith in himself and in the social rituals he was enacting was forever subverted one night as he was walking alone across a bridge. Though he heard the splash of a young woman throwing herself into the river, Clamence continued walking, without making any effort to save her life.
That moment, which has haunted him ever since, marked his fall from innocence; it introduced an ineradicable self-consciousness that alienated him henceforth from his in-authentic social roles. He now lives in exile, compelled to recount his guilty story again and again to passing strangers.
Fond of heights and of islands that reinforce his sense of detachment, Clamence calls himself a “judge-penitent.” He takes as his calling the expiation of personal guilt by implicating others. That is precisely what he is attempting to do through his narrative--which, he admits, he improvises each time to suit each successive listener.
During this particular...
(The entire section is 514 words.)