Review: The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger is a short novel published in 1942 by famous French author Albert Camus.  Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 and became a philosopher, author, and journalist.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

The Stranger was Camus’ first novel and Claire the-stranger-by-albert-camusMessud writes in A New ‘L’Étranger’ that it is “one of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century…”

This is my first Camus novel which I chose because many speak so highly of it.  I enjoyed the story and I found the character Meursault to be interestingly different.

This book was originally written in French and I happened to read Stuart Gilbert’s translation.  There were parts of the story where the English didn’t feel right to me and I became conscious that it was a translation which I don’t think should happen.  This version left me feeling that I might have been better off reading Matthew Ward or Sandra Smith’s translation.  It doesn’t always happen this way but with this particular novel the translation version you read will definitely affect how you perceive this story and ultimately that is the key to The Stranger.

When you read what others have written about this book you will undoubtedly come across descriptions like wikipedia’s: “Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label”.  I am not going to pretend to know anything about any of that.

What I can tell you is that the main character, Meursault, comes across as a bit strange.  Throughout the story you get the distinct impression that he does not conform.  He does not follow the norms set out by society about how we should be.  He didn’t seem to me as a bad guy but he didn’t seem to have a moral compass and passed absolutely no judgement on what the rest of society might well deem worthy of judgement.  What I found incredibly interesting about this is the way Camus wrote him.  While he does not subscribe to society’s moral code he did not come across as a bad person but rather a different person.  How society, and you the reader, would deal with a person like this seems to me to be the crux of this story.  And indeed, according to David Carroll in his book Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice, Camus himself wrote in January 1955:

“I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

The title of the book points to this also.  Unfortunately, in English the title doesn’t carry across all the meanings as it does in the French L’Étranger.  I don’t speak French but as a foreigner in a Portuguese speaking country I learned early on that ‘estrangeiro’ (and the French ‘Étranger’) means a foreigner, a stranger, and an outsider.  The context determines which meaning is implied.  The story reminded me of this throughout because Meursault is all three; a foreigner in Algeria, an outsider to society, and a bit of a stranger to those around him.

My sentiments are echoed in Sandra Smith’s introduction to her new translation of The Stranger the title of which she has altered to The Outsider:

“In French, étranger can be translated as “outsider,” “stranger” or “foreigner.” Our protagonist, Meursault, is all three, and the concept of an outsider encapsulates all these possible meanings: Meursault is a stranger to himself, an outsider to society and a foreigner because he is a Frenchman in Algeria.”

This quote was taken from Claire Messud’s article A New ‘L’Étranger’ which is well worth reading after you read the book.  Another article that I enjoyed is Lost in Translation by Ryan Bloom which shows how important a good translation is to fully appreciating these seemingly ‘simple’ novels of the past.

I enjoyed reading this short book but choose your translation wisely.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

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TBR Chronicles #10

 

As the end of the year swiftly approaches, it’s got me thinking about my reading challenge and whether or not I’m going to manage to complete it in time.  For this reason, I went over the shorter novels on my TBR list in the hopes of knocking out a few novellas to get my numbers up.  I know that many of you have had no problem whatsoever reading far beyond your reading goals, congratulations to you!  If any of you, like me, are missing those last few books then I recommend a few novellas!

Here are a few of the short novels I have earmarked for reading:

The Fall by Albert Camus

The Fall

I picked this one because many readers say that it is in fact The Fall that is Camus’ best novel and not The Stranger so I’m intrigued.  At 92 pages you’ll have no problems finishing this one quickly.

“Jean-Baptiste Clamence is a soul in turmoil. Over several drunken nights he regales a chance acquaintance with his story. From this successful former lawyer and seemingly model citizen a compelling, self-loathing catalogue of guilt, hypocrisy and alienation pours forth. “The Fall” (1956) is a brilliant portrayal of a man who has glimpsed the hollowness of his existence. But beyond depicting one man’s disillusionment, Camus’s novel exposes the universal human condition and its absurdities – and our innocence that, once lost, can never be recaptured.” (GoodReads)

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

I’ve always wanted to read this classic and at 96 pages there’s no reason not to.

“Dr Jekyll has discovered the ultimate drug. A chemical that can turn him into something else. Suddenly, he can unleash his deepest cruelties in the guise of the sinister Hyde. Transforming himself at will, he roams the streets of fog-bound London as his monstrous alter-ego.” (GoodReads)

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Siddhartha

This is another classic I’ve been meaning to get to.  This one is 160 pages but still doable if you’re short on time.

“In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life—the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.” (GoodReads)

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities

This sounds a fantastic read and at 165 pages you’ll be through it in no time.

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” — from Invisible Cities

In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo — Mongol emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts his host with stories of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. As Marco Polo unspools his tales, the emperor detects these fantastic places are more than they appear.”  (GoodReads)

Identity by Milan Kundera

Identity

This book is new to my TBR and the concept of identity is interesting to me so at only 168 pages it seems worth it to give it a go.

“There are situations in which we fail for a moment to recognize the person we are with, in which the identity of the other is erased while we simultaneously doubt our own. This also happens with couples–indeed, above all with couples, because lovers fear more than anything else “losing sight” of the loved one.  With stunning artfulness in expanding and playing variations on the meaningful moment, Milan Kundera has made this situation–and the vague sense of panic it inspires–the very fabric of his new novel. Here brevity goes hand in hand with intensity, and a moment of bewilderment marks the start of a labyrinthine journey during which the reader repeatedly crosses the border between the real and the unreal, between what occurs in the world outside and what the mind creates in its solitude.  Of all contemporary writers, only Kundera can transform such a hidden and disconcerting perception into the material for a novel, one of his finest, most painful, and most enlightening. Which, surprisingly, turns out to be a love story.” (GoodReads)

 

Have you read any of these already?  If so, share your thoughts with us.