“a novel both prescient and appalling…written with tremendous verbal energy and passion”

Finding informed comment, literary or otherwise, on Jean Raspail’s 1973 novel The Camp of the Saints is exceptionally difficult; most of the novel’s enthusiast’s in the online world are isolationists and outright racists.

A rare exception to this state of affairs occurred when U.S. novelist Lionel Shriver offered her thoughts on Raspail’s novel several years ago in the New Statesman:

…Yet these high-density nightmares are usually uncomplicated by race, which lends them a certain innocence. The same cannot be said of Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints (1973), a novel both prescient and appalling. It is the year 2000, and Raspail’s population projection of seven billion worldwide turned out to be close. Resentful and wretched, 800,000 residents of Calcutta swarm on to a fleet of ships and steer the convoy toward the coast of France. As the rutting, reeking, hate-driven throng approaches, the liberal, multicultural France prepares to greet her "visitors" with open arms. Meantime, resident immigrants, despising their menial jobs, constitute a waiting fifth column. By the time the ships run ashore – and the first landing party is a tide of bloated corpses thrown overboard – similar seajackings have occurred elsewhere, and the full-scale invasion of the first world by the third world has begun.

Broadly, demography is a lightning-rod for literary reservations about humanity itself, which can appear repulsive in sufficient quantity, or even seem to deserve its fate when bringing extinction upon itself. Alternatively, fiction can animate the humanitarian truism that, biologically, we all sink or swim together. This collective existential ambivalence helps to express the dichotomy that other people are at once resource and rival: we need social co-operation to survive, yet our fiercest competition for that survival comes from our own kind. Beneath the field’s dry statistical surface, there teems an irresistible Pandora’s box of paranoia, nationalism, racism, rivalry, misanthropy and apocalyptic dread. Consequently, demography is sure to tempt more fiction-writing dabblers to prise open the lid.
 

Certainly The Camp of the Saints is racist. Raspail’s stinking "river of sperm" floating toward France is dehumanised, its mascot at the prow a speechless deformed dwarf. Yet it’s a tough call whether Raspail is moredisgusted by "the sweating, starving mass, stewing in urine and noxious gases" or by his own countrymen, who are too paralysed with self-contempt to defend their borders: "Cowardice toward the weak is cowardice at its most subtle, and indeed, its most deadly." And to give the novel its due, it is written with tremendous verbal energy and passion.

Raspail gives bilious voice to an emotion whose expression is increasingly taboo in the west, but that can grow only more virulent when suppressed: the fierce resentment felt by majority populations when that status seems threatened. Moreover, the developing world migration pressures that Raspail foresaw are indeed being brought to bear, as squalid human trafficking proliferates and hundreds of asylum-seekers nightly storm the Channel Tunnel at Calais, often bringing rail services to a halt. If The Camp of the Saints contains a lesson, it is that majority concerns about immigration need fair airing, for such primitive anxiety is too potent to be consigned solely to the far right. 


—from Lionel Shriver, “Population Doomsday,” New Statesman,
10 June 2002

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