Book title: The Stranger
Book Author: Albert Camus
Publication Date: 1942
The term ‘modern classic’ is used far too frequently but The Stranger is a novel for which such a description holds true. It is a major book of twentieth century philosophy and encompasses several schools of thought, most prominently absurdism and existentialism.
The book is about a man called Meursault who lives a bland daily existence and seems bored with everything in life. His daily routine is thrown out of order when he commits a senseless murder of an Arab on a beach in Algiers. The story is told in first person from Meursault’s point of view, with part one leading up to the murder and part two dealing with the aftermath and trial.
The book is written in a very distinctive style. One that is not French at all but ironically, for one of the most popular French books of the last century, an American style. Camus writes in the way Hemingway would write. He makes use of short sentences and minimal descriptions to give the reader the feel that there is a lot happening beyond what they are being told.
This style works especially well to describe Meursault’s life. The short sentences manage to give the impression of the narrator’s malaise and disinterest. The fact that he barely manages to describe his mother’s funeral or any emotions about it in the opening chapter immediately sets the tone of Meursault as a somewhat emotionless person.
The book is not entirely about the boredom of daily life. Meursault goes to the beach with his new friend Raymond and his new girlfriend Marie. The passages which lead up to the killing of the Arab at the beach are some of the most descriptive and intriguing in the entire book. The author manages to convey the fact the sun is affecting the narrator strangely and completely shows that he is suffering from the effects of heatstroke without ever coming out and saying it. The author only uses the sun and its effects as the reason for the killing, yet it does not seem as an impossible leap by the way it is described.
The second part of the book which deals with after the murder is much more specifically philosophical than the first. The trial deals almost exclusively with the narrator and his apparent emotionless state and unconventional behavior at his mother’s funeral. It is this more than anything which will seal his fate.
The narrator is unable to understand the link between his mother’s funeral and the murder. As a consequence he is unable to show remorse. He tells the reader that he is unable to feel remorse or strong emotions about any of his actions in life. This statement shows the extent of the influence of absurdism in the book since the narrator can see no inherent meaning in life, it just happens.
Meursault meets with a priest in the final chapter of the book, who has come to prepare him for his execution. In a climactic scene, the narrator refuses to be absolved of his atheism and tries to convince the priest that the universe is indifferent to his execution. This again is a reference to absurdism and its theory of finding meaning in life to be a waste of time.
The Stranger is one of the most original works of the last century. While the style and ideas may not originate with Camus, the tessellation to form the complete work brings about a book like no other. This book is one of the most thought provoking ever written. It manages to work as both a novel and a philosophical text and that alone makes it special.