12.8–The Stranger

I have heard a great deal about this book and know a lot of people who like it, so I decided to give it a try. Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger actually surprised me a great deal, for I expected to be irritated by it and found myself enjoying it instead. There is something about Camus’ prose that is captivating, despite its simplicity. It is the story of a man who commits a heinous crime in cold blood and must face the possibility of consequences set out by his society. Told from a first-person perspective, it allows the reader a glimpse into the mind of a man who is, by all appearances, a sociopath. His character is disturbingly composed, showing a complete lack of emotion or empathy with other human beings. He just doesn’t seem to care about anything: relationships, religion, his criminal activity, etc. In fact, the only thing that seems to get a reaction from him is heat and extreme discomfort for his own self–a major step away from the priorities of everyday people.

An uneasy feeling settled over me as I read. The character seems relatively normal at first, though from the first his apathy seems unusual. But he has a job, he has an apartment and a relationship with his neighbors, a girlfriend…no delusions or blackouts or memory loss that might indicate mental illness. But there’s something about him that is spooky. By the end the depth of his apathy is somewhat bewildering. His apathy, though, hints at the reality that criminals are judged by the public and by “the system” before their supposedly fair trials. From the beginning of the trial the tide of public opinion is against him, and the end seems inevitable. Perhaps he is not so much apathetic as resigned.

On a surface level, the story is simple, easy to read, and relatively entertaining. But to approach the novel as a source of entertainment is to approach it in absolutely the wrong way. It’s a fine work of contemporary literature, and a interesting insight into one man’s psyche and personality. Though I tend to be turned off by Existentialists and their concept of “the absurd” (for instance, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame disgusted me to the point of rage), The Stranger was a novel that I could actually get through.  I don’t empathize at all with the idea at all. I fully believe that life has meaning outside of our ability to define or understand it, but Camus’ novel indicates the opposite–that because this man did not assign meaning to any of the events happening to him, there is none.  It’s sad, really, and the novel certainly brought my mood several notches down.  Still, I feel that this novel deserves more time and attention than I was able to give it. I’d like to read it again sometime soon and perhaps edit this blog. Also, something interesting. After you’ve read this book (because you should read it), listen again to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. I listened to it recently and decided that Camus’ novel absolutely had to have an influence on the writing of the song. It was awesome. Go literature!

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