Brett Williams's Reviews > The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus
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really liked it

The first novel I’ve read in ages, I was exposed to Camus by a Goodreads reviewer. Much later a bracing audio series by The Great Courses and Robert Solomon arrested my interest. Without both, I’d not have liked the book as much.

Camus writes a metaphor. With exception of the value nature has for the main character, Meursault—colors in the sky, smell of the countryside, sea spray in the air—the metaphor is for meaning in life through emphasis of its absence. “Marie came by to see me,” says Meursault, “and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said it didn’t make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way…that it didn’t mean anything but that I probably didn’t love her…[but] if she wanted to we could get married.”

Then there was the obliviousness of Meursault. While listening to a lawyer prosecute him for murder, Meursault thinks to himself, “Of course, I couldn’t help admitting that he was right. I didn’t feel much remorse for what I’d done. But I was surprised by how relentless he was. I would have liked to have tried explaining to him cordially, almost affectionately, that I had never been able to truly feel remorse for anything. My mind was always on what was coming next, today or tomorrow.”

But the trial isn’t really about the murder, so much as it is about Meursault, and how dangerous is his potential to show people they invent meaning, and that they can just as easily uninvent it. As the lawyer says of Meursault’s empty heart, it is “an abyss threatening to swallow society.”

Finally in prison, awaiting “my head cut off in the public square in the name of the French people,” Meursault begins to realize what gives life value is its brevity. He never thought much about death, other than when his father returned home from an execution (funeral?) to vomit from the experience. “I blame myself every time for not having paid enough attention to accounts of execution. A man should always take an interest in those things. You never know what might happen…How had I not seen that there was nothing more important than an execution, and that when you come right down to it, it was the only thing a man could be truly interested in?”

According to the audio series, Camus meant to create a mirror for the reader to see themselves. It worked.
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Reading Progress

November 2, 2015 – Shelved
November 2, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
September 25, 2018 – Started Reading
November 1, 2018 – Finished Reading

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