Monday, July 27, 2009


The Stranger, Albert Camus, Alfred A Knopf, 1988, 123 pp

(Originally printed in French by Librairie Gallimand, Paris, 1942; translated by Matthew Ward.)

Albert Camus, born to a family of French settlers in Algeria, journalist, essayist, playwright, and philosopher, also wrote three novels: The Stranger (1942); The Plague (1948) and The Fall (1956). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1957 but died in an automobile accident in 1960, at the height of his career.

I missed The Stranger during my reading of 1942 novels, mostly due to my confusion between his French and English publication dates. Essentially this is his first published novel, written in his late 20s.

Meursault, the main character, is definitely among the class of anti-heroes. He lives alone in a rooming house, has a job he doesn't mind but cares little about, a mistress and an assortment of odd friends. He is not ambitious, has no concrete plans for his future and is not given to commitments. When his poor mother dies in a nursing home, his life begins to unravel as he involves himself unwisely in his friends' affairs.

Eventually Meursault kills a man but it is not clear whether it was an intentional murder or an accident. Camus obscures the nature of the killing for the reader in order to put us into the uncertain moral state of his main character. As Meursault languishes in prison awaiting trial, he passes through various mental states which are Camus' philosophical positions, but as in The Plague, the writing absorbs the reader in the drama, making the philosophy practically painless.

The accusations and investigations of the police, the advices of the lawyers and finally the trial itself, are as full of absurdities as anything by Kafka. I was left feeling that most of life is absurd, although questions of innocence and guilt hold importance.

In a little over 100 pages, Camus packs an amazing amount of incident and idea. The result is a deeply affecting story that has stayed with me for weeks.

(All three of Camus' novels are available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. Sometimes they are also on the shelf in our classics section.)

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