22 September 2009

Book Review: The Stranger

Title: The Stranger
Author: Albert Camus
Published: 1988/1942 Pages: 123
Genre: Literary Fiction

Buy  |  Borrow  |  Accept  |  Avoid

Plot Synopsis
Meursault tells readers about the time right before and the time right after he murdered an Arab on a beach.

My Thoughts
Meursault has to be the most emotionally detached main character I've ever read that wasn't autistic or in some other way mentally Other. And this complete lack of feeling for other people or even the world in general, made it practically impossible for me to identify with him or like him. Unfortunately, I am a character-driven reader. A plot can be relatively mundane and dull, but if the characters are complex, dynamic (meaning they "grow" during the story), and interesting, I'll still love the book. This is not the case with The Stranger.

Fortunately, however, after characters my second point of interest in reading is philosophy and theme, and Camus is certainly no stranger to philosophical discussions as the basis for his writings. Meursault, while in my opinion completely ridiculous, does offer readers a look into the life of a man who believes unflinchingly that life is something that is happening to him. When his recently acquired girlfriend, Marie, suggests the two get married, Meursault explains to her "that it didn't really matter and that if she wanted to, [they] could get married". He doesn't care one way or another; he'll just go with whatever life throws at him. The death of his mother gets as little emotional attention as the proposed marriage. He can't even fake emotion, and eventually it is this inability that is both his downfall and his transcendence.

Philosophically this text is packed with items for contemplation. For me, Meursault's only saving grace (which still didn't make me particularly like him) is his refusal to contradict his own personality and belief system. Even when his very life hangs in the balance, he doesn't budge an inch. He will not pretend to a belief in God, Justice, or Remorse. This is admirable to me.

Camus' writing is quite simplistic (or at least the translator's is), and I don't mean this is a negative way, just descriptive. The sentences are short and generally follow the conventional structure of subject-verb (predicate). The events and the telling of these events are straightforward and clean-cut. No flowery prose detracts from what is essentially part of the theme of the book itself: meaninglessness (absurdism) and the creation of meaning by the individual (existentialism).

Other Reviews


  1. Oh wow thanks so much for the link back. I was very interested to see your interpretation of the work, and agree with you about Mersault's one good characteristic. I admired him for not compromising his true sense of apathy just because he was facing death. I guess the saying 'there are no atheists in foxholes' does not apply to him!

    Also we would love to have you sign up for the book club we are now hosting!! Feel free to stop by and check it out and sign up if you are interested. We would love to have you.

  2. Padfoot and Prongs - Not a problem at all. I like having other reviews up, especially from sites I read. I would love to sign up for the book club, but it's going to have to be next time around. I have too many freaking challenges to finish!

  3. Trisha... I'm sorry to say that I completely disagree with you. Mersault, in my opinion is a very ordinary man who lives his life in a very usual way. You cannot deny that there is thousands of people out there that are just like him. I also really disagree with Mersault being "emotionally detached", he does have feelings and DID love his mother, he misses her presence (for example when he describes how the apartment feels so empty without her) and he shows us his endearment towards her by calling her Maman. Camus chose this word because is a much more familiar word than mother and it shows Mersault's true feelings towards her. Indeed, in Matthew Ward's translation he leaves that term as in its French form.

    Mersault is a very complex man and it is other people not understanding him and labeling him as "amoral" that actually causes him all his trouble.

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, they were well supported and were also honest.



  4. Like you, I most appreciate thorough characterization! I felt the characters in this book simply represented stereotypes to a great degree. Interesting analysis. I also posted a review of this book: http://books-n-music.blogspot.com/2014/04/classics-club-5-stranger-by-albert-camus.html


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