WARNING: no spoilers, but a lot of aimless philosophy.
Although I took a few days after finishing this to let it sink in, these are still my incompletWARNING: no spoilers, but a lot of aimless philosophy.
Although I took a few days after finishing this to let it sink in, these are still my incomplete and less-than-cohesive thoughts on The Stranger. I want to say first that I absolutely hate reading translations, because one language used by one person can never really communicate the same thing as another person in a different language. I feel that what I'm reading is so far removed from Camus' L'etranger as to make it unthinkable that I'm reading much other than Matthew Ward's The Stranger - and who cares about that?!? Nevertheless, I wanted to read Camus, and so I did the best I could.
Some will thoroughly hate/disparage me for saying this. Acknowledged. So here goes: right around p.110 I started feeling like the book had substance. With 13 pages left, it got interesting. That's what I thought for a few lines, anyway. Then I realized how the peculiar inanity of all pages that came before were leading into those breathless 13 pages, and how startlingly that reflects "real" (outside-of-literature) life. The important bits, they generally sneak up on you. This novel is (among many things) an embodiment of the whole 'hindsight is 20-20' concept.
All the way through I couldn't decide how I feel about Mersault. He seems like an unrealistic character in a realistic world. How many of us have met a Mersault? (I've met some partial Mersaults, at least, but none like this.) How does anyone develop an internal life like the one portrayed in his story? He has rejected, or at least hasn't absorbed, normal socially-imposed morality. Yet he's so perfectly understandable. Like all of us, most things he does are done for no very compelling reason; his only difference from the rest of us is that he recognizes and accepts the total inconsequentiality of it all. He knows that we live, we die, and nothing in between matters that much. That made me like him, at the same time as (I admit) I feared him, a little. I feared him because there's a significant part of me that thinks the same way, and maybe there is such a part in all of us. If he is, what the hell kind of a lie are we daily, silently agreeing to live? I think about this more than anyone wants to discuss it with me, so I try not to dwell on it, but this novel forces me to confront it: "the gentle indifference of the world" (p.122). The Mersaults we can pinpoint are far fewer than those who conceal their doubts, bury their knowing, leave their deep convictions (convictions of no conviction) out of their actions and out of their words. And so society goes on, all of us unexplained and unexplainable in our privileges. We are privileged to live, to die, and not to matter.
We know the banality of evil; consider the banality of innocence. If I'm at all correct in my thoughts that we each ARE Mersault more than we want to admit - if so, he is an everyman. Maybe that's why Camus has him smoke so many cigarettes, drink so much wine and coffee. He is simply a more psychologically honest representation of the typical. In an anti-Classical fashion the tragedy of Mersault's life is rooted in his own banality, though I can't decide for whom it is tragic. He concludes the world is "so much like myself – so like a brother, really [...]." And cue shivers up the spine. I found myself wondering whether his atypical awareness condemns or absolves him of what he's done, before I recalled that such a question's against the whole point of the story. Another question: who is "the stranger"? Maybe the answer's not so obvious. But I will save the matter to ponder upon a re-reading.
Guess I should quit pretending I have something to say about this book, hm?
I am probably typical in that this is the first work by Camus that I've read (if only my French was good enough to read the original - alas, not even halfway good enough). My thoughts on this will change as I read more of him, and come to better understand his philosophical position. Do I want to?
Note: the rabbit hole's no deeper than your least favorite coffee mug. Disappointing, isn't it? ...more
**spoiler alert** *** Cover incredulity: Where they could have put Brother Fox and given the thing some semi-metaphorical relevance, the white-and- gi**spoiler alert** *** Cover incredulity: Where they could have put Brother Fox and given the thing some semi-metaphorical relevance, the white-and- ginger cat on the cover has nothing to do with anything here. So I guess if McCall Smith seems out of his depth at times, at least he's more competent than his book designers.
Like the other Isabel Dalhousie stories, this one makes for quick, light, thoughtful reading. There is, however, one element that prevents me from engaging with it as thoroughly as with the previous two: the romance plot. I am unable to feel anything more than lukewarm enthusiasm for the Isabel who's a romantic heroine, because I like her as a philosopher, and I feel she is no longer quite herself in trying to be both. Whereas we're accustomed to overhearing Isabel's thoughts on tea-and-scones matters of moral philosophy (which are still present to a degree), at least 50% of them are replaced in this book with "Jamie's hot. I shouldn't be thinking this. But man, he's hot. I'll always love him, even though he could never return my OH CHECK OUT HIS FACE AT THAT ANGLE." (Forgive my ugly non-Scots paraphrasing.) The classically-romantic qualities of the surrounding, of Isabel's neighbours and friends, all that I loved in the first two books - this all loses its charm in the [here] unfortunate presence of erotic romance. Paradoxically, I couldn't really concentrate on the usual "mystery" plot because of my niggling curiosity about what would happen next????? with her and Jamie.
The answer is, nothing much happens. Actually a lot happens. But with McCall Smith's prose – sweet but plodding, rather like a lovely old carthorse – it doesn't feel like it. I'll say it plainly: Alexander McCall Smith should not attempt to write romance. We'll never know anything approaching the details of Isabel's and Jamie's first sharing-of-a-bed, for their lazy afternoons that follow, for Isabel's discovery that she's expecting. While we know these things have happened, the author steers clear of them with the delicacy of - my metaphors fail me. Well, of an old man in denial about how prudish he is. But he can't help it. That snappy little scene where Isabel propositions Jamie should serve as proof. I'll end this review, however, with another bit of dialogue that's even better to illustrate my point:
Jamie: Ginger Ale? Isabel: Yes. Jamie: Why? Isabel: Because I'm pregnant. ... Oh, Jamie. Jamie: How clumsy of me. I'm sorry. Isabel: You couldn't be clumsy if you tried. Jamie: What are we going to call him?
Parts of this conversation, I've taken *sliiiightly* out of context. But it's so much more fun that way, and really, it comes out to the same thing re: awkwardness. If such awkwardness can be considered endearing, that's why I will keep reading McCall Smith novels. After all my complaints, I'm still happy enough with this. ...more
I have tried to read this twice already – not for many years, mind you, but still – and haven't yet finished it. WHY?! It is one of those I undoubtedlI have tried to read this twice already – not for many years, mind you, but still – and haven't yet finished it. WHY?! It is one of those I undoubtedly must get to this summer....more