*Minor Spoilers Below*
“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” are the opening lines of “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, a French philosopher and writer. These lines to me are the most powerful and melancholic opening words to any philosophical work of fiction hands down, no objections about it. These two simple sentences lay out the entire atmosphere of the novel for the reader, and also showcase the downbeat, introspective, and meaningless tone of the voice of our protagonist Mersault, or The Stranger. I think this novel is my favorite book of all time, since I first read it in January of this year, I have never forgotten it. I finished The Stranger for the second time last month, so here is my overwhelming positive review and analysis of it.
To summarize this book without giving too much of the story away, the book follows Mersault a day, or maybe a day after (I don’t know), his mother’s death as the opening lines state. Right away in the first chapter, we can tell that Mersault is a man who finds life and living creatures to be absurd. This is showcased when he declines seeing his own mother’s body in the coffin for one last time. Instead he stands by the coffin and smokes as he watches the funerals attendees. When asked how old his mother was, Mersault can not give a clear answer, but this does not bother him. The day after his mother’s funeral, Mersault goes to the beach with a girl and has a fun time having sex and even attending a comedy movie, clearly not in grief over his mother. This reveals to the reader Mersault’s lack of remorse, something that is explored further deep into the second part of the book. Part of me feels as if Mersault suffers from Antisocial Personality Disorder, however this disorder wasn’t named when this book was written, Camus is just a fantastic writer of characters.
The story progresses and we meet Raymond, a friend of Mersault’s who had an Arabic mistress that he beat. The Arabic mistress tells her brother and his friend about Raymond’s abuse, and one day at the beach the group of Arabs confront Raymond and a fist and knife fight break out with Mersault involved. The fight breaks up and Raymond recovers from a stab wound off the beach. Mersault takes Raymond’s gun from him, and walks down to the beach where he sees the mistress’ brother laying down in the sand watching him. Mersault approaches him and the Arab charges him with a knife but Mersault shoots him with a single fatal shot and the Arab falls. Then Mersault shoots him four more times while he is down because why not? While this happens, Mersault cares more about the blinding heat of the sun’s rays rather than the man he shot and killed. This was not a spoiler per say, as most people who have heard about The Stranger, know that Mersault kills an Arab in cold blood, it is in every summary (The Cure even wrote a song about it). This is however, as far as I will explain the story as Part One ends right there. Part Two deals with the aftermath and the philosophy of Albert Camus, which is the true reason why I love this book so much.
This book presents Albert Camus’ philosophy of Absurdism, a school of thought that basically believes life is meaningless and man made ideas and concepts like religion, government, society, economics, etc. are all absurd and only simply a product of the human mind created to be manipulated by others for personal gain. This is exhibited in the story’s court case, Mersault’s tendencies to go against the grain of society’s expectations which make him the titular “The Stranger”, and in the monologue in the final pages of the book, which are among my favorite pages in all of literature. Absurdism is somewhat an offshoot of Existentialism, a label that Camus rejected but is associated with. Existentialism answers the question about the meaning of life by simply saying one does not exist and you must make one for yourself. This is not as depressing as it sounds, these ideas have personally allowed me to live a less restricted and more happy life (I have no urges to shoot Arabs either).
As for my opinion of this novel, I think it is brilliant. I do not think it is the best book ever written, that claim would be biased and absurd, although I will say it is my favorite book. The book has a unique style that gives the deadpan style Hemingway was famous for, a run for it’s money. This book does not overstay it’s welcome, most editions are only a little over 100 pages and can be read in a day with no issue. This book is a brilliant way to break into philosophy, more specifically existentialism. I was never once bored, the storyline captivated me from start to finish. All around a brilliant novel worthy of a 10/10.
Publication Date: 1942
Alternate Titles: “The Outsider (UK)” “L’Étranger (France)”
Word Count: 38,000 words.
Genres: Philosophy, Fiction, Novella, Absurdist Fiction, Existentialism.
i. e. 10/10