Book Review: The Stranger (Spoilers)

Title: The Stranger (L’Etranger)

Author: Albert Camus

Genre: Classics, Philosophy

Publication date/year: 1942 (first edition)

Pages: 123 (Paperback)

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Thoughts:

This is my first time reading an Albert Camus novel and I am actually unsure on how to write a review for this particular book.  Originally written in French, The Stranger is divided in two parts: the first part focuses on Meurseult before he commits the crime, leading to the moment he shoots the Arab and the second part is focused on his trial leading to his death sentence.

Despite liking this book I actually had a difficult time reading it, though not in a sense where I don’t understand the language.  It was more of my lack of comprehension of the meaning behind it. Readers tend to have different interpretations on particular books that they read, and I am one of those who is unsure of what Mr. Camus’s message is.

The story is very simple. It is about a man named Meurseault who commits murder that he seems ambivalent about. In the first part of the book I extremely disliked Meurseault. He is apathetic towards everything which as to why he frustrated me so much. I was unsure what Mr. Camus was presenting in the beginning in regards to the main protagonist; however, as the story progressed, there is one constant theme that is present throughout the novel and it’s “indifference” or “apathy”.

Meurseult is indifferent towards everything in life. I came to realization that he was a person who doesn’t care about anything in this world. He lives a life without meaning–physically there, but detached from emotions. When his mother dies he has no reaction and ends up sleeping at the funeral; and when his girlfriend asks him if he loves her and if he would marry her his response is this:

“If you want me to, it doesn’t really matter.”

“Nothing, nothing mattered, and I knew why. So did he. Throughout the whole absurd life I’d lived, a dark wind had been rising toward me from somewhere deep in my future, and as it passed, this wind leveled whatever was offered to me at the time, in years no more real than the ones I was living. What did other people’s deaths or a mother’s love matter to me; what did his God or the lives people choose or the fate they think they elect matter to me when we’re all elected by the same fate?”

Though Meurseult didn’t get my sympathy, I would say he was a simple, honest man. He was a stranger of habits and customs of this world.  He blamed the sun when he committed the murder. He accepts his fate with indifference. The sad thing was that he didn’t think himself different from other people. He didn’t live in the illusion, but also didn’t understand that others did.

If it weren’t for the final pages of the book this book would have probably received a rating of a two star. It has to be my favorite part of the book because it was so profound thus bumping it to three and a half stars. When the Priest came in to talk to Meurseault, it reminded me of Crime and Punishment and that feeling of true creep when faced with the raw truth. It’s in this moment Meursault shows emotions and attacks the priest calling them on their hypocrisy and pretense. He tells him that he never accepted the lie of society and their God.  He asserts that he lives a life of complete freedom and receives satisfaction in letting it all out. He realizes that he was and is a truly happy man despite his fate. He already accepted his fate, but now accepts the “benign indifference of the universe” hoping that “huge crowd of spectators.. and howls of execration” will accompany him to death.

“And I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still.”

Even though I am no atheist since I come from a religious family, my beliefs will not affect how I rate this book. I wasn’t wowed by it, but it definitely was an interesting read therefore, I would definitely recommend it.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Stranger (Spoilers)

  1. Love this book! The element of absurdism which this book entails is definitely part of what throws people off. We as human beings always search to find a meaning in everything we do, and sometimes we get caught living in an illusion. So it’s a bit confusing to read a book where the main character is so detached and indifferent, who strips away life to the bare minimum. We think how is this guy the protagonist, he’s dreadful. It presents the question of is meursault the strange one, the crazy one or could the rest of society be delusional? I think he presents a certain truth about humanity.

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  2. Gotta admit I was nervous when I saw this pop up on my reader. What if she doesn’t like my all-time favorite novel? What a relief when I read your review. Whew! I agree with you that this is not an easy book to figure out. I’m still not sure about the shooting. . But, Camus wrote about Meursault years later, and he said that he saw Meursault as a man who would die for the truth. So, you’re right he seems pretty strange about many emotions, particularly with his attitude toward Marie. But, he would rather die than lie, either explicitly or by going along to get along.

    In fact, Camus set aside the philosophy he expresses in The Stranger (absurdism, things are a matter of pure chance, etc.) a few years later. When the Nazis invaded France, Camus joined the French Resistance and became the editor of the Resistance newspaper. He fought the Nazis throughout World War 2. From that experience came his 2nd novel, The Plague. Unlike Meursault, the protagonist of the Plague (a doctor) is engaged in the struggle to fight the plague, i.e. to alleviate human suffering and promote justice.

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    1. Oh I enjoyed the book despite the fact that I found it kind of odd…in an interesting way though. The Plague is next on my Albert Camus to read list. I hope I will like that one as well.

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  3. The Stranger (or The Outsider as my translation is called) is an odd book. I love it but that’s my opinion. I studied it though so I think that might have helped with my opinion. Camus’ other books and short stories are good too, albeit a tad more philosophical and nihilistic than this one. I’d recommend them if you found this one interesting.

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    1. Yes it is. While I didn’t exactly love it I found it to be an unusually good read. I’m definitely going to give his other works a try. The Plague is probably the next Camus book I’m going to read.

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  4. For Camus one of the most important questions is whether one should commit suicide or not. This not only means physical but also philosophical suicide, i.e. throw all your beliefs away and start from scratch. It’s pretty interesting to read. Maybe you should read The Myth of Sisyphus, also written by Camus and connected to the themes in The Stranger. Camus sees Sisyphus as a happy man and an absurd hero. As I said, it’s pretty interesting to read but also much more philosophical than The Stranger. Still, it’s worth it.

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