By: Albert Camus
The Stranger has a little bit of everything.
A little bit of the insanity factor I was talking about in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (and a little bit of philosophy, too).
A little bit of the beauty of well-translated French classics like The Little Prince.
A little bit of the chaos of the courtroom scene typical of so many famous books (like To Kill a Mockingbird or any number of Grisham’s novels).
A hint of young love.
And an awful lot of the detachment typical of a Hemingway hero.
This book is so interesting.
It’s about a young man caught up in a murder case. There’s no question of his guilt; the question is his premeditation.
But it’s so much more complicated than that.
As I said before, Meursault (the main character, the “stranger”) is incredibly detached. Psychopathically detached. At one point, he claims, “I had never been able to truly feel remorse for anything.”
It’s not that he doesn’t feel. He certainly does. It’s just that he doesn’t always feel what society expects him to feel. I read that another translation of the title is “The Outsider.” I spent half the book trying to figure out who the stranger was going to be, but then I realized Meursault himself is the stranger, the figure who doesn’t operate the way society wants him to, the character who can’t quite fit in.
Camus is the main proponent of the philosophy of the absurd. This book is, depending upon your source, considered a philosophical novel. And it’s rife with scenes of Meursault attempting to find meanings in the events of the novel, of others attempting to find meaning in Meursault’s actions, of Meursault trying to explain his own purposes. It’s very interesting in that way.
And this book is well written.
There’s never too much detail, but there’s rarely too little. It’s a very open-ended book, providing you clues and opportunities to develop your own idea of what happens. The version I read is the first American translation, translated by Matthew Ward in 1988.
It’s not too heavy. It’s not too obvious. It’s not too philosophical. It was refreshingly short and to the point. It’s sad, but not depressing. It’s a good read, at the end of the day.
I’m a fan.
If you enjoyed The Stranger, try these suggestions:
(for novels about crimes)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
(for novels about sociopathy/insanity)
The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
(for themes about detachment)
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
(for French philosophical themes)
No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre
(for more by Camus)
The Plague, The Fall, Exile and the Kingdom, and Selected Essays by Albert Camus
The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner
Woza Albert! by Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema, and Barney Simon