Jun 07, 12
Read in January, 1989, read count: 2
This book changed my life. It was one of the first works of "serious literature" I ever read on my own, as a freshman in college. I was intrigued by the cold, sparse language, and I was perplexed by the theme. It wasn't the book itself so much as what it lead to. Camus became a literary hero of mine. I sought out and read most of his other novels, stories, plays, and essays. I even read his published journals and a good deal of his juvenilia. I learned about existentialism, which, of course, lead me to Sartre, and led me to philosophy in general. And it led me to an interest in French literature and the French language. I liked to read before I encountered Camus' work, but I read as an escape. This novel was my introduction to literature not as an escape from life, but as a way to engage life more fully.
Update: I recently (5/2012) re-read The Stranger via audiobook. This time around, it was Matthew Ward's translation (the original translation I read was by Stewart Gilbert). Both are fine translations, but I ended up preferring Ward's. Also, reading the book again, after more than 20 years, makes quite a difference in terms of what the book means to me. Whereas the first time around, I saw Meursault as a soft of individualist anti-hero, this time around, it was his nihilism and apathy that struck me--his very lack of connectedness with anything other than the delights of the sun and the water.
It works both ways, of course. On the one hand, Meursault is convicted of murder as much for not following social conventions of mourning as he is for the act itself. And this was what struck me the first time around. On the other hand, Meursault's lack of fellow-feeling is damned-near psychotic. The society in which he lives wants (over-much) to shape him into a carbon copy of itself. But, from the view of society itself, he is, in the last analysis, such an outsider that he becomes detrimental to any sort of civil society.