Monday, April 9, 2012

"The Stranger" by Albert Camus

book cover of the stranger by albert camus
This classic novel tells the story of an Algerian man who inadvertently becomes involved in a murder, not long after his own mother's funeral.  This short novel is not merely an interesting story, but one filled with deceivingly complex characters and is told in a remarkable way.  I should mention that I read Matthew Ward's translation, which has been noted as being "Americanized".  The original title is "L'etranger" which can also be translated to The Outsider.

The book is divided into two parts: before and after the murder.  The first part is disarming - short, very simple and precise sentences put you right into the main character's mindset.  The second part is written with a more fluid structure, but I didn't really notice the difference until after I had finished and went back into the first part to check certain points.

I couldn't quite figure out the main character - Monsieur Meursault.  He is an adult, young but on his own.  He thinks in simplistic phrases.  Nothing interests him and he is mainly concerned only with the necessities of life (sleeping and eating primarily).  At first I thought he was merely an overgrown child.  Then I started to wonder if he had a mental condition - a dissociative disorder or even some level of autism as he is also severely affected by environmental conditions (noise, heat, light).  In any event, it seems that he is not affected emotionally by anything, certainly not by the feelings of others.

He continually declares that emotions and sentimentality are not important and therefore he remains distant and removed from these situations.  But in the second part of the book, he briefly and suddenly becomes aware that his trial seems to be taking place all around him; he has been removed from this as well and it disturbs him.  He remembers himself before too long though, and falls into primarily caring only about the heat in the room.

By the end of the book we see clearly the point the Camus is trying to make:  everyone dies and the world will keep on turning.  So, it doesn't really matter if or who you love, if or who you kill, if you die naturally or by a guillotine.  It is pretty bleak and depressing if you ask me.  No matter what you believe in spiritually, I just can't imagine closing yourself off and not living life with as much verve as you can muster.

book cover of the stranger by albert camus
Cover of first US Edition from Wikipedia
The April prompt for November Autumn's Classics Challenge asks us to also discuss the cover of whichever Classic we are reading.  The cover of the edition I read is pictured up at the top of the post.  I think the small photo inset on the cover captures the idea of Mersault pretty well.  But I don't really understand the large field of blue with circles.  If I were to associate a color with this book, it would be more of a yellow like the sun or sands of the beach.  I like the cover of the first US edition where the man's eyes are covered by the title (from Wikipedia).  The coloring seems right and I like that if the man pictured (or painted really) were to sit down next to you on a bus, you would not recognize him. His cheekbones also look like he could be smiling, but he clearly is not.

If I were in charge of designing a cover for this book though, it would be a clearer picture of a man.  The man would be in his 30s, and have an absolutely vacant look in his eye.  No smile, no features immediately identifiable about him at all.  He would be standing on the beach, wearing plain, dark, solid colored clothes and if you looked closely enough - you might see a gun in his hand.  He isn't flashing it and he isn't trying to conceal it.  It is just there, much as he is.

The Stranger 
by Albert Camus.  Translation by Matthew Ward.
Vintage, 1989.  First published 1942
123 pages
Source:  Purchased Used.
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Ao Bibliophile said...

hi Sarah! i can never forget this book. i read it in the original French (gave me headaches lol!) way back in college. i couldn't resist reading an English translation afterwards. i agree with you, it is kinda depressing. i wouldn't have picked this book but it was required reading in my French class so i had little choice.

Heather said...

I've been meaning to read Camus for a while, and I keep putting it off. This one sounds very interesting, although a bit depressing. I think I'll have to read it soon.

Debbie said...

Sounds like a bleak read. Not sure I'll be looking this book up. Of the two covers - I agree - the second one is more appealing.

Matthew (The Bibliofreak) said...

Great to see someone else reading this fantastic little book. I wrote a couple of posts about it a few weeks ago (if I wasn't on my iPad I'd drop you a link) - its a fascinating read, with a lot to unpack as they say.

Like the cover idea too, not dissimilar to what I'd go for. :)

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