It is almost impossible to describe Camus' The Stranger to people who haven't read this book yet. L'Étranger is so unlike many other novels with philoIt is almost impossible to describe Camus' The Stranger to people who haven't read this book yet. L'Étranger is so unlike many other novels with philosophical themes that you can easily see why it has received its position among books people say everyone should read once in their life.
If you get around to reading this surprisingly short novel, don't do so with the wrong expectations. In a more common book, the plot would leave much to be desired; and Camus doesn't invent characters you care such a great deal about that you want to desperately learn more about them. This book is not about what's happening on the outside; it focuses on what happens on the inside of a human's mind in a surprisingly subtle way. A reviewer called this book "intellectually stimulating", which does perhaps come the closest to describing the essence of The Stranger.
While in the beginning the story may seem boring and uninspired, the words suddenly begin to grap your attention and pour their way into your thoughts, raising tons of questions on the way. What exactly allows our lives to be meaningful; do they even have a meaning? Shouldn't it rather be argued that since we are all equally going to face death sooner or later, all our lives are equally meaningless?
This story about a man alienated from his surroundings may bore some of its readers, but above all, it bears food for your thoughts, and as long as you don't expect enjoyment from Camus' most famous novel, then The Stranger is surely going to make you think....more
News like the following ones are regularly broadcast these days: Tourists kidnapped by Al-Qaeda devotees. Al-Qaeda-related massacre, tourists involvedNews like the following ones are regularly broadcast these days: Tourists kidnapped by Al-Qaeda devotees. Al-Qaeda-related massacre, tourists involved. Hotel attacked by Al-Qaeda gunmen. The list can be extended continually. We all have heard of those tragic events, whether the tourists were of US-American, English, German or another nationality. And we all hope and pray we and our closest will never be entangled in such an occurence. But do we know how it actually feels like for the people concerned? Do we know how the situation in captivity might be like?
The Taste of Fear provides stunning insight into such a dreaded incident. Not all of it might be accurate in terms of the plot's credibility or a realistic portrayal, but it is questionable whether or not the feelings a person has to bear while in danger of being murdered brutally by terrorists could even be accurately depicted. And if you bear in mind that this is one of Jeremy Bates' first novels he has published so far, with him still being a newcomer to the world of writing, then it can be admired that he was able to come up with a gripping and relatively believable story.
(Little side-note: Small spoilers are included, but nothing essential. You will still enjoy the story and be surprised by its twists even if you read this review.)
The Plot: The story focuses on Scarlett Cox and Salvadore Brazza, a married couple who want to overcome their marriage problems by travelling to Africa. Sharing wonderful and distressing experiences alike during their stay in Tanzania, they have no idea that on the very day they intend to return to the United States, they will be robbed and taken hostage by Al-Qaeda terrorists. The story is constructed on a constantly increasing level, suspense and thrilling moments being piled up until the turning point occurs with Scarlett, Sal and some other innocents being kidnapped and taken into the deep forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the least investigated regions of the planet. The author never allows the story to bore its reader, a new twist lurking around every corner and being accompanied by a new cliffhanger. The story itself never feels rushed, however - Jeremy Bates carefully explores all the plot points he established at the beginning of the story and still leaves enough room for the characters to breath and develop. Which leads directly to the next point ...
The Characters: One might imagine that with a story as complex and socially relevant as this one, the author decides to introduce likeable characters the reader can't help but root for. You're way off the mark. Scarlett Cox is a spoiled, unsuspicious Hollywood movie star and considers herself to be one of the most well-known prominents of the United States of America. Her husband, Salvadore Brazza, called Sal, is a hotel tycoon with more money than he could ever actually spend and a list of enemies he has lost track of - and, more importantly, Sal behaves like an asshole. During the course of the story, the true of colours of Scarlett's character emerge and allow her to see behind Sal's facade, behind the masks of a rich, powerful man she has spent four years of her life with, only to realize that she really does not know the man she has fallen in love with. Both of them undergo massive character development during the course of the story, but while Scarlett attempts to do so, Sal never shows any interest in bringing their lives into agreement with each other. Jeremy Bates also introduces several minor characters, for example Damien Fitzgerald, one of Sal's enemies who is unplannedly involved into the entire mess, or Thunder, an expatriant who enjoys his adventurous life in Africa and who will cause further uproar in Scarlett and Sal's marriage. Jeremy Bates focuses on his two main characters, thus not really spending time on developing the minor characters or making his readers care for those - which is sadly the most significant point of criticism in this novel.
The Setting: Set on four different continents (America, Europe, Asia and Africa) and in seven different countries, the author explores a huge variety of setting options, leading from the luxury hotel in Dubai via the holiday guidance in Tanzania through to the depths of the Congolesean jungle. He isn't scared of presenting very differing cultures as well as the differences between civilized people and military groups like the Mai-Mai, but he also doesn't shrink back from confronting his characters with the true dangers of the African forests: they have to escape lions and leopards, spiders and snakes, hippos and crocodiles. Some of those encounters will end deathly. In fact, the author doesn't shrink back from killing in general. There is a lot of death, blood and devastation in this story, as might be expected from a story dealing with terrorists. It's a socially relevant subject depicted with a certain realism attached to it, yet the way Jeremy Bates implemented it is probably not suited for those who are more sensitive than others - mainly because he doesn't tell, he shows. And if there is someone who is attacked by a feline predatore (and eaten alive) ... then it will be shown explicitly. I'm just saying.
Jeremy Bates is one of those authors who isn't very well-known these days, but who certainly has the talent to evolve into someone with more recognized stories and literary achievements, especially in the thriller/mystery genre. His writing style might be reminiscient of authors like Jo Nesbø, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Stephen King or Tana French who unproblematically succeed at allowing their readers to root for unlikeable protagonists. And let's not forgot that The Taste of Fear is a Kindle freebie, so it can be legally downloaded for free. This will definitely not be the last Bates novel I've read, and if you are interested in the very complex plotline, then you should not hesitate to pick it up....more