The Stranger by Albert Camus, translated by Matthew Ward, narrated by Jonathan Davis
Originally published 1942, translation done in 1989
Albert Camus (pronounced “Alber Camu”)was born on November 7, 1913 in Mondavi, French Algeria. He grew up poor with his mother in Algiers after his father died during World War I. He attended the University of Algiers and studied philosophy, which is what he got his undergraduate and graduate degrees in. It was during his college years that he joined the Communist party and later the French Anarchist movement. It was during WWII, in his work with the French Resistance, that he met Jean Paul Satre, who also wrote political commentary on the war. According to Biography.com, “In 1945, he was one of the few Allied journalists to condemn the American use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He was also an outspoken critic of communist theory, eventually leading to a rift with Sartre.” Camus’s work was rife with absurdism, aka the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe. He preferred not to call it existentialism, as that is what he felt Sartre dealt with instead. Camus was married and divorced twice, and seemed to dislike marriage as a whole. He died January 4, 1960 in Burgundy, France.
The actual story is about a young Algerian man named Mersault who is ambivalent about everything. His mother dies in the very beginning of the book and he goes to the funeral but is bored by it. When he returns home the next day, he continues with his life by starting an affair with a woman named Marie from his office and they go to see a comedy. She asks him later on if he loves her and he responds “Probably not,” but they still agree to get married. He becomes friends with Raymond, an upstairs neighbor and even vouches for the man as a witness with the police he abuses his girlfriend for cheating on him. In a way, hanging out with Raymond leads to his downfall. Raymond’s now ex-girlfriend’s Arab brother and the brother’s friends have started fights with Raymond, one of which Mersault was involved with. He and Raymond are at the beach that day, and later on as he is walking down the beach and the sun is beating down on him, Mersault sees the Arab brother and shoots him five times killing him. He is of course arrested and a trial ensues. The prosecution manages to convey that he is a heartless individual based on the way he handled his mother’s funeral and his subsequent actions. He is sentenced to death by guillotine. Recommended for ages 15+, 3 stars.
I was not sure at all how to review this book as I wasn’t 100% sure that I understood the complexities that Camus was trying to convey with this seemingly simple short book. At first glance it seems to be talking about the absurdity of life and humans in general, and how we’re all going to die anyways so we might as well be happy, but I’m sure people have read/taught it many times probably think it is way more. As this reviewer has said: “Digesting the content will certainly take much longer [than the afternoon it takes to read it] as this little novel raises serious questions about morality, society, justice, religion, and individuality.” The one part I did enjoy about the book was at the very end as he is awaiting his execution and has the encounter with the priest. As this article says, “His only advantage, if any, is that he knows that he does not know anything except the succession of events that was his life. This certainty he cannot betray. That is why he revolts so violently against the priest who comes to console him. Consolation would mean substituting something else for the bare truth.” “