The Stranger by Albert Camus


It's taken me some time to finish this slim book as I read it in French.  And along the way, I have tried to commit to memory the words I did not know.  It was actually an ideal book for a pathetic student of French like me, as the existential writer (a label Camus rejected) recounts so much of everyday matters that even I could read much of it.  As long as you know words that express indifference, well, you're fine.

From the outset I was reminded of Walker Percy's The Moviegoer (reviewed here) with its flat, no-affect take on the world.   The narrator, who lives in Algeria, has no strong feelings about the events he tells us about, beginning with the death of his mother.  His experience of the funeral and burial focuses the heat of the day and on dozing his way through the events, with the occasional inappropriate drinking of cafe au lait and having a cigarette while sitting with the coffin.  The next day he meets a woman he had previously worked with and in short order, they are intimate.  Before long she wants to be married and he's agreeable with that, though he doesn't have strong feelings about it.  The central event of the book is his killing of an Arab almost by chance; then after a brief pause, he pumps 4 more bullets into the inert body.  A detailed description of the trial and his time in jail follow.  He feels superfluous to the trial itself, with the prosecutor, his attorney, and others talking about him endlessly.  Of course he is found guilty, and he tells of his time in prison, the occasional moments of peace he found.  He finally becomes animated after being pressed and lectured by a priest about his cold heart and lack of belief in God.  After his outburst defending his way of life, he finds calm again, remembering that his mother was happy at the end of her life and that no one had to cry for her.  The smells of the night air refresh him and he is open to the tender indifference of the world.  In the last sentence he says to be completely happy so that he feels less alone, he has only to wish that there are many spectators at his execution who will welcome him with cries of hate.

So I get it that the narrator is alienated from society and doesn't feel the necessity to follow its dictates, and thus is the stranger.  And that the horror of treating a whole people, the Arabs, as non-human, is corrosive to all.  But it's hard to connect the events that occur to actions of a thinking person.  I do love the reference to the tender indifference of the physical world.

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