Ths Stranger or The Outsider, by Albert Camus, is the story of Meursault, an Algerian who is living in North Africa. One day Meursault murders an Arab. The story isn’t that simple and at the same time it is that straightforward. Camus divided the novel into two parts, before and after the shooting. Many claim that this is an existentialist novel; however Camus didn’t think he was an existentialist. Instead, he explores the theory of absurdism in the book. This is a new philosophy for me so be patient while I try to explain. From what I gather, this philosophy explores the conflict between people searching for the meaning of life and intrinsic value and the inability of people actually finding it.
Understanding this philosophy, even a basic understanding, will help when reading this novel. At least it did for me since the main character comes across as rather cold and distant. In the opening pages he learns of his mother’s death. Instead of reacting to the news, he slowly goes through the motions of the funeral and having to take time off from work. Meursault notices that others experience grief, but he doesn’t. Instead, he drinks coffee and smokes.
When he murders the Arab he doesn’t feel any emotions or express why he did it. All he mentions is that the heat was getting to him.
“It was this burning, which I couldn’t stand anymore, that made me move forward. I knew that it was stupid, that I wouldn’t get the sun off me by stepping forward. But I took a step, one step, forward. And this time, without getting up, the Arab drew his knife and held it up to me in the sun.”
If you like connecting with the main character this book may be hard to handle. I felt zero connection with him. Also, I didn’t feel much sympathy either. I didn’t hate him. Instead I was more fascinated by him. It’s a little like watching a car accident. You know you shouldn’t watch, but you can’t help yourself. The entire time I was reading I kept thinking that no good was going to come from this. The exploration into human emotions and how we all expect people to feel a certain way was fascinating. This isn’t a novel that will make you stand up and cheer and hope for a happy ending. But I believe it will make you think.
My edition was translated by Matthew Ward. In the translator’s note I was surprised that Ward claimed he translated this novel so it would be more accessible for Americans. This puzzled me. And I guess I hadn’t put too much thought into that before when selecting novels that have been translated. For example he says the British translation has this sentence: “As usual, he had his dog with him.” Ward’s translation is: “He was with his dog.” The change isn’t too drastic, but it is a change. Ward’s sentence gives the sense that the dog is more like a companion, maybe like a spouse. I really wish I stuck with my French lessons so I could have read this in its original language. I’m envious of those who can read and write in more than one language. For now, I think I’ll pay closer attention to which translation I pick up.
Camus, born in 1913, was from French Algeria. He was only 46 when he died in a car accident. Three years before his death, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, making him the second-youngest winner of the award. He was the first African-born writer to claim the prize. The Stranger is on my 1001 list. Albert Camus has two more novels on the list: The Plague and The Rebel.
Have any of you read The Stranger? What did you think of it?