The cabin-passenger wrote in his diary a parody of Descartes: 'I feel discomfort, therefore I am alive,' then sat pen in hand with no more to record. The captain in a white soutane stood by the open windows of the saloon reading his breviary.
There you have it. The assumption that the reader will know the original of the parody, the nameless characters about whom we will gradually learn more, the Catholic priest captaining the boat promising that there will be Catholic guilt at some point. Querry, the passenger, doesn't in fact suffer from guilt - he has lost the ability to feel much about anything at all. Famous in his field, victim of a terrible attack of indifference, he arrives at the Congo leper village where the doctor diagnoses him as the mental equivalent of a 'burnt-out case', a leper who has gone through the stage of mutilation and in whom the disease is no longer active.
A strange book. It depressed me when I read it in the 70s, though understanding has grown in the intervening years. The end comes with shocking banality - but is perhaps the only conclusion that would satisfy. I'm glad I read it again - I'd forgotten big chunks of it, and became immersed in the heat and difficulties of Querry's new life and the awfulness of the white community beyond the leproserie. And yes, it was immensely portable.