The Stranger by Albert Camus
Translated from French by Matthew Ward
Published by Random House, Inc. in 1989 (originally in 1942)
First Vintage International Edition, ebook format, 124 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0-307-82766-1
I read The Stranger at the behest of my cousin, Debbie because she wanted me to read The Meursault Investigation, which probably doesn’t make any sense to read by itself as it is an independently-written sequel of sorts. I had never read The Stranger and I typically don’t like classics, so I honestly wasn’t expecting much. It’s a short read, so I figured I’d zip through it, read The Meursault Investigation, write brief reviews for both, and move on with my life. I do have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised. (Just a quick content warning for domestic abuse. It won’t be brought up in my review, but it is present in the book.)
Then he asked me if I wasn’t interested in a change of life. I said that people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another and that I wasn’t dissatisfied with mine here at all.
The book is written in first person, which is typically off-putting for me, but it wouldn’t have worked in any other format. I desperately wish I had read this in school because I’m positive there is so much I didn’t pick up on that would have led me to appreciate it even more. The tone is relatively dry and matter-of-fact, which I disliked at the outset. It’s kind of a “this happened, and then this happened, and then that happened” kind of story.
I would have liked to have tried explaining to him cordially, almost affectionately, that I had never been able to truly feel remorse for anything.
Camus starts off the book with the death of Meursault’s mother, an event which seems to have little to no impact at all on the man. As the book continues, it becomes clear that Meursault moves through the world like an automaton: he goes about his daily life with barely a hint of emotions. He seems content, if contentedness differs from happiness.
Meursault started off as a flat, boring character, but he became fascinating to me. He has no moral code, he has no real sense of right or wrong. He’s not malicious, he just doesn’t seem to understand that the people around him feel. He mentions at one point that the deaths of others don’t bother him because he’ll just forget about them. He expects that when he eventually dies, that they’ll forget about him too. He falls into the same trap that many of us sometimes fall into: he cannot comprehend what others are experiencing because that is not what he is experiencing.
I truly felt for him. Is it possible to feel empathy for someone who cannot feel? It’s just a projection of my own feelings onto him. I place myself in his shoes and know how I would feel, so I feel that for him. But isn’t that exactly what he’s doing? He’s placing himself in others’ shoes and assuming they feel (or don’t feel) the same way he does. I don’t know, it was a fascinating concept, and very well-executed. The Meursault Investigation is next on my TBR, but I’ll also probably look into some essays and articles on The Stranger so I can wrap my head around this all a little more.
Have you read The Stranger? If so, please share your thoughts! If not, do you have any interest in reading it? It’s certainly a strange book, but also a quick one to get through.