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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Camp of the Saints

Jean Raspail

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To purchase The Camp of the Saints

Title: The Camp of the Saints
Author: Jean Raspail
Genre: Novel
Written: 1973 (Eng. 1975)
Length: 322 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Camp of the Saints - US
The Camp of the Saints - US (Kindle)
The Camp of the Saints - UK
The Camp of the Saints - Canada
Le Camp des Saints - Canada
Le Camp des Saints - France
Das Heerlager der Heiligen - Deutschland
Il campo dei santi - Italia
El desembarco - España
  • French title: Le Camp des Saints
  • Translated by Norman Shapiro

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Our Assessment:

D : noxious; collapses in its own spluttering

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 12/10/2005 Lorenz Jäger

  From the Reviews:
  • "Raspails Roman ist grotesk-apokalyptisch bis zur Obszönität, er schwelgt im Häßlichen, Grausamen, und vielleicht war dies der Preis für die visionäre Kraft. Der Autor verlängerte, wie Orwell in der negativen Utopie 1984, die Linien seiner Gegenwart. Die traurigste Rolle spielen die Kerenskis der multikulturellen Gesellschaft -- jene, die an Dialog glauben, aber gleich vom ersten Ansturm am Strand überrannt werden." - Lorenz Jäger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The recovery of this neglected work helps us to call attention to the key global problem of the final years of the twentieth century: unbalanced wealth and resources, unbalanced demographic trends, and the relationship between the two. (...) If anything, Raspail's contempt for sympathizers and fellow travelers in the West is even more extreme. (...) Raspail may have written the most politically incorrect book in France in the second half of the twentieth century, but the national mood concerning immigration is nowadays much less liberal than it was two decades ago." - Matthew Connelly and Paul Kennedy, The Atlantic (12/1994)

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Camp of the Saints is a notorious novel, and one that just won't go away: its (presented-as-)horror-vision premise of the unwashed masses (and Raspail takes that very literally) of the 'Third World' swamping civilized Europe strikes too close to home for many in these immigrant-fearing times (not that there are too many times when the fear of immigrants seems to be waning). Whether America's enduring xenophobic hysteria about illegal immigration (mainly, currently) from Central America or the current (2015) flow of refugees from the Middle East -- especially Syria -- and Africa into Europe, it remains astonishingly easy to stoke up that fear of being overwhelmed by -- and local culture and society undermined by -- the foreign. (How little it takes is evident too from the cover photo of the Social Contract Press edition of this novel I have: an image of the huddled masses -- Chinese "illegal aliens" from the Golden Venture that ran aground on Rockaway Beach in New York in 1993; the three hundred or so on board apparently the terrifying tip of an iceberg that threatened the very essence of Americanness; twenty years later, of course, it seems the catastrophe this portended ... wasn't much of one.)
       Raspail's 1973 novel is set in some indefinite near-future, but the Europe of his dystopia is recognizable as that spineless, bleeding-hearts-liberal quagmire that nationalists (of many nations) and conservatives have criticized for well over a century; it is familiar, too, from the novels of Michel Houellebecq (and, as many have pointed out, Houellebecq's Submission posits a scenario that is similar to this novel in how 'civilized' France is the source of its own undoing). Even if entirely terrestrial, the premise is, in the way Raspail presents it, straight out of science fiction. Beyond that, Raspail's presentation, especially of the alien -- a force, rather than individuals; a nameless, faceless mass; the Other not personified but dehumanized -- employs many of the basic elements and characteristics of the horror genre -- to good effect, one might add: if it were possible to turn a blind eye to all the ideological nonsense, The Camp of the Saints would still seem quite a twisted tale, but certainly a reasonably terrifying one.
       What sets Raspail, and his novel, off is a flotilla, a hundred-ship (at least when it sets out) armada -- the (generally ramshackle) ships stormed by the masses up and down the Ganges, that mother of all elemental rivers, and then heading for the high seas, and then Europe. A "Last Chance Armada", teeming with the huddled masses. Or a mass, anyway: Raspail is both incapable and uninterested in identifying almost anything (or rather: anyone) individual aboard (despite there being a million of them, give or take), and part of the very effective sense of horror at what's coming (to Europe) that he stirs up is that there's no clear sense of what this dank, dark -- and very smelly -- mass is. And it's very much what, rather than who -- a (single) monstrosity, rather than any sort of collection of humanity.
       Silently, relentlessly, the ships just plow Europe-wards -- though they wind up going the long way, around the Cape rather than through the Suez Canal, yet another of the turns Raspail suggests helped lead to disaster, since if the world had gotten a closer look at what was on board they might have been moved to (re)act. But, like the reader, the world doesn't get a closer look: the ships keep to themselves, with even the attempts to provide humanitarian aid shockingly turned aside. When the flotilla gets closer a small French strike force is sent to board one of the ships ("But with strict orders not to kill or wound anyone, except in self-defense"): facing an unmoving mass they even fire off a shot over the passengers' heads. Unimpressed, "the wall of flesh began to move forward", impossible to fight against, chasing away the soldiers (and trampling a few underfoot).
       When they land -- on the Côte d'Azur -- they face no resistance (the feeble French have long since cleared out), this "D-Day" a walk on, and up, the beach for the disembarking mass(es) in this: "least deadly of all of mankind's total wars". And just to make clear how low humanity had sunk: "What struck the Western observers the most", Raspail maintains, was the stink. The intruders had, after all, been: "steeping in dung and debris since Calcutta", so no wonder:

it smelled as if some vile, rotting monster, jaws agape were blowing its lungs out in huge, fetid blasts.
       In Raspail's world one can just hold one's noses at those who are other (i.e. not white): they are almost uniformly presented as unclean; what glimpses there are of beautiful bodies in the "teeming, steaming squalor" exist only part of its elemental essence, as these foreigners "who never found sex to be sin" (unlike 'civilized' folk, who understand concepts like 'sin' ...) of course go at it like rabbits ("Everywhere, rivers of sperm. Streaming over bodies, oozing between breasts, and buttocks, and thighs, and lips, and fingers"). (The mass-identity of the approaching horror goes even for its sex-acts: not the traditional male-female, paired coitus, but rather: "Bodies together, not in twos, but in threes, in fours, whole families of flesh gripped in gentle frenzies and subtle raptures".)
       Raspail cleverly limits the violence that those who threaten to undermine the old world order engage in. They do not come brandishing weapons. Instead, the mass is fearsome because of its very mass: it just needs to advance to push aside -- or trample underfoot -- any- and everything (and person) in its path. Presented as largely indifferent to death -- there's lots of death on board, as the decrepit masses can't survive the rigors of the long sea voyage, but ... c'est la vie -- and they also make no attempt to really defend themselves from attacks (not that they have much need to). Their philosophy, so Eastern, is entirely fatalistic: all they do is advance, and if some or many among them should fall by the wayside along the way, so be it.
       As one Frenchman sums up:
This might well be some new, sophisticated form of warfare: a pathetic enemy, who attacks without firing a shot, and who counts on our pity to protect him.
       While Raspail opens the novel with the armada's imminent arrival, the novel quickly turns back and describes its origins and the long voyage, allowing Raspail to describe it ominously, slowly closing in on Europe even as it is known from the first that it will successfully reach these shores. Along the way he suggests there were numerous opportunities to salvage the situation and prevent things coming to a head -- but, alas, the decadent (and/or decrepit) West failed to seize any of them. As the fleet approaches, the locals flee, abandoning the coast, unwilling to face this unknown horror (and, of course, unable to mobilize any functional political or military opposition to it). Raspail drips with contempt for the modern French, this: "flabby new breed of 'enfants de la patrie'" who won't stand up for the fatherland and turn tail instead, in this:
flight to the north, the pathetic exodus of the country's rightful owners, their self-willed downfall, their odious surrender. In a word, the anti-epic !
       An old professor of literature, Calguès, is among the few who stand their ground: the novel opens with him -- of ancestral name and ancestral house (built in 1673, a fine old piece of the real France ...) -- and the story eventually returns to him, too. He can only shake his head at what's happening, understanding that: "a morbid, contagious excess of sentiment" has doomed France and the French. The younger generation -- hopeless:
He understood. That scorn of a people for other races, the knowledge that one's own is best, a triumphant joy at feeling oneself to be part of humanity's finest -- none of that had ever filled these youngsters' addled brains
       Raspail envisions that:
the Third World had started to overflow its banks, and the West was its sewer.
       Once the flooding begins, its impossible to stem the tide. The Chinese cross into the Soviet Union ("The Amur has turned yellow"), and flotillas spread the poverty-wealth all over. And the 'West' gives up without almost any fight, especially when they (and the 'others') realize how many have already managed to infiltrate the 'civilized' parts of the world -- those: "swarthy millions roaming the streets of New York and London, or the myriad blacks and Arabs ready to spew from the cellars of Paris". It's a numbers-game, after all:
Simple question of statistics. They compare the figures and draw their conclusions. Really, how stupid ! We never imagined there could be so many.
       Before the hordes have arrived some discussion is entertained about the possible consequences. One person suggests:
But don't you ever ask yourself what something like this would mean ? The mixture of races, and cultures, and lifestyles. The different levels of ability, different standards of education. Why, it would mean the end of France as we know it, the end of the French as a nation ...
       Raspail isn't even willing to entertain the possibilities: in his radical vision France simply abandons itself. There is no 'humanity' for him, just 'us' -- flag- and gun-waving patriots (all white, mind you, white !) defending what is ours, ideally -- and 'them' (off-white, smelly, etc.). Only he sees his fellow countrymen as having lost their backbones, almost to a man -- embracing Eastern fatalism, perhaps, in considering the situation: after all:
With millions of us and billions of them, we couldn't have held out much longer.
       Raspail thinks the 'West' has gone soft. So also in the novel not only do the citizens just up and run away, even the French army comically dwindles to almost nothing, with soldiers unwilling to fire a shot and blubbering instead. It's the "cancerous progression of compassion" that's wearing down the 'West', Raspail writes in his 1982 Afterword, still standing behind his work.
       One has to hand it to him, he's willing to go all the way with his politically incorrect defense of bygone days:
One can even claim, at the risk prison or social extinction, that under the Western regime the Third World did work efficiently, at least. It would have been best to take pride in the fact, and establish a just master-servant relationship, instead of groaning with shame at the height of our prosperity.
       Raspail's tendentious novel is, of course, intentionally offensive -- stunningly and successfully so. He wants to goad his critics, and to shake up his readers. He means The Camp of the Saints to be a sort of challenge, to rouse his readers and make them see the light (and the very, very (and also: smelly) dark) but he loses himself in his ridiculous excess. There's some (unintentional ?) comic excess which might work in a work of satire -- the Queen is compelled to marry off one of her kids to a Pakistani, for example -- but otherwise there's nothing here that can in any way impress (much less convince) any but those who already believe that Raspail's sense of 'Western' weakness is spot-on; sadly, it appears that many, in France and certainly in the US and Australia, and across Europe, do.
       By the end, Raspail is spluttering, trying too hard. It's scary to realize that he might have been more successful if he had shown more restraint: there's no question that, manipulative though it is, his presentation of this alien mass approaching Europe is horror-story effective, and memorable. If he hadn't embellished so much on the fringes, his tale might have held some appeal among even those who weren't already convinced of his message -- and thus been more effective in spreading his ugly word.
       As is, The Camp of the Saints is ... well, not quite risible, it's too ugly for that. But it's not really shocking either: the ideology behind it -- and it is ideology, pure and simple -- is so loony that it's impossible to take very seriously, like the worst of colonialist- or Nazi-fiction. It's almost impossible to consider purely literarily -- it's a message-book that pounds and pounds that message -- but there's no danger of being seduced simply by the power of the writing or the story-telling (as there can be with, say, Céline): Raspail is too clumsy for that. But it's not a terrible book in that respect -- just in all the others.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 September 2015

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The Camp of the Saints: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
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About the Author:

       French author Jean Raspail was born in 1925.

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