Maciek's Reviews > The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus
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it was ok
bookshelves: read-in-2015, reviewed

I don't think that there is much new that could be said about The Stranger. Published in 1942, it was Albert Camus's first novel, and became his best known - a classic of French and existentialist literature though the author disavowed the latter label.

The main storyline is very simple: Mersault, a French Algierian, receives a telegram informing him of his mother's death. Mersault is completely indifferent to the news - in the famous opening sentence he can't even remember if his mother died today, or yesterday, which ultimately doesn't really matter. She spent her last years in a house for the elderly, and after discovering that her body has already been sealed in a coffin Mersault refuses an offer to have it opened; he doesn't even want to see her one last time.

Mersault's lack of reaction to his mother's death might suggest that he is a despicable character, but it would be wrong to judge him as such. He is entirely detached from the world around him - events which would provoke emotions in others fail to rouse him, and at best he is irritated if he perceives them as an inconvenience (such as being forced to listen to a chatty caretaker - who could be understood as trying to comfort a man who recently lost his mother). Mersault's lack of emotional response makes society perceive him as someone fundamentally different and possibly dangerous, the eponymous stranger.

The Stranger is best known for being a novel of the absurd. Mersault's indifference to events around him is almost farcical; he agrees to write a letter incriminating the mistress of his friend, and latter to testify on his behalf purely because he has no real reason no to; he neither condemns nor approves of his friend's actions. He does not care if the woman he sees loves him, and becomes engaged to her just because she asks him to; later, he commits an act of senseless violence for no apparent reason. Ironically, Mersault's detachment can also be seen as an admirable quality, as he is always honest - he does not fake grief after his mother's death, and always speaks his mind without obfuscation or lying. Mersault displays real emotion only at the very end of the book - which in the biggest irony of the book only assures him that his behavior was correct, and that nothing holds any larger meaning.

Although this is a classic and well known novel, this is the first time I actually read it. I read the 1988 translation by Matther Ward, self-described by the translator as "Americanized" - justifying the term and approach by Camus's supposed interest in American literature. Having read no other translations I give Mr. Ward the benefit of doubt, though I disagree with at least one choice he made: Mr. Ward has changed the novel's iconic opening sentence, "Mother died today", to a more personal "Maman died today". This sentence is well known even to those who have not read the book (and I speak from experience), and in my opinion the change of "Mother" to "Maman" lessens its impact: "Maman" is much more personal, suggesting a degree of emotional attachment in a character who is supposed to feel no emotions regarding anything or anyone; the more formal "Mother" is colder but much more effective, and I think it just works better. Perhaps the change was a deliberate attempt to evoke a sense sympathy for or interest in Mersault early in the book, but I think it does not suit what has been conceived as dispassionate, distant commentary by a narrator who is supposed to be a emotionless stranger, and not someone familiar to whom we could relate.

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Reading Progress

December 10, 2015 – Started Reading
December 10, 2015 – Shelved
December 10, 2015 – Shelved as: read-in-2015
December 10, 2015 – Finished Reading
December 13, 2015 – Shelved as: reviewed

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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Mike i have fond memories of this, but i last read it over a decade ago. you might enjoy robert's review of the book (he read the same translation you did):

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Joey Dhaumya You should read Sartre's essay on The Stranger! It completely changed my perception of it


message 3: by Nhoa (new)

Nhoa I read this long ago as a French literature class assignment but frankly, I remember little about it. I may reread it to see how I feel about it now~


Corinne Wasilewski I remember hating this book.


Maciek Mike wrote: "i have fond memories of this, but i last read it over a decade ago. you might enjoy robert's review of the book (he read the same translation you did):

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show......"


That was a good review! Thank you for sharing it. I wonder if you would feel the same way about it now.


Maciek Joey wrote: "You should read Sartre's essay on The Stranger! It completely changed my perception of it"

Thanks, Joey, I will look for them!


Maciek Nhoa wrote: "I read this long ago as a French literature class assignment but frankly, I remember little about it. I may reread it to see how I feel about it now~"

I would be interested in seeing how your opinion has changed. It's always interesting to revisit something we read a long time ago. :)


Maciek Corinne wrote: "I remember hating this book."

Ha! Can't blame you, Corinne. I can't say it's one of the most engaging books.


Bandit Great review, Maciek, as always. But in this instance I actually agree with you completely.


Maciek Thank you, Bandit! :)


message 11: by Kam (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kam but. Did you like it?


Alain Dib In fact in the french version Camus used the word “maman”. I agree with you mother is more appropriate but I think it was just an attempt to use the same word as the original.


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