Unfinished novel by Camus stirs excitement

April 26, 1994|By New York Times News Service

PARIS -- Inside a mud-stained briefcase found near the site of the car crash that killed Albert Camus on Jan. 4, 1960, were 144 pages of almost indecipherable handwriting that made up the first draft of the early chapters of a novel based closely on his life.

His widow, Francine, decided against publication. Camus had won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1957, but at the time of his death at the age of 46 he was on poor terms with Jean-Paul Sartre and other Left Bank luminaries, and she feared publication of the rough text would expose him to more attacks.

But today, leftist intellectuals no longer rule the roost in Paris. And confident the work in progress would interest students of the author of The Stranger," "The Plague" and other modern classics, Camus' daughter, Catherine, has published it under the title "The First Man."

"My father would never have allowed publication of a first draft because he often did three, four, six versions of his works," Ms. Camus said. "But when I read the text, I thought it was a unique document because it was autobiographical, so I decided it should be published."

What she did not anticipate, though, was that the book would stir such excitement. Not only has it been acclaimed by most critics and prompted long magazine articles about Camus' life, but also since its publication by Editions Gallimard early this month it already has sold 100,000 copies.

Ms. Camus, has kept as near as possible to the original manuscript.

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