Jim Fonseca's Reviews > The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus
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it was amazing
bookshelves: to-read, french-authors

A short review because there are so many other good reviews of this classic. When I first read this eons ago, I assumed “the stranger” was the Arab man that the main character kills on the beach. (It’s set in Algeria.) Not so.

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Meursault, the main character, is a man without feelings and one incapable of feeling remorse. Those deficiencies show at his mother’s death when he does not cry and does not even seem terribly upset. They show again when he agrees to write a letter for a friend so that the friend can invite his ex-girlfriend back so he can beat her up. Mostly they are revealed when he shoots a stranger - an Arab – after an altercation on the beach. Five shots: first one, a pause, and then four more. The “four more” is what eventually gets him convicted.

He lives in a poor, violent neighborhood where, when one man’s wife dies, he starts beating his dog instead of his wife. “As for the dog, he’s sort of taken on his master’s stooped look, muzzle down, neck straining. They look as if they belong to the same species, and yet they hate each other.”

Meursault has a girlfriend that he likes, but mostly he doesn’t care about her one way or the other. These two passages say it all: “A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so. She looked sad.” And “That evening Marie came by to see me 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 to.”

His boss at a shipping company asks him if he want to be transferred to a job in Paris. “Then he asked me if I wasn’t interested in a change of life. I said that people never change their lives, that in any case one life was as good as another…”

At his trial for the murder, he feels that the prosecutor and his lawyer are arguing in a way that has nothing to do with him. He has a surge of feeling that he is dying to say something but then thinks “But on second thought, I didn’t have anything to say.” When he’s convicted and sentenced to death, he also acts as if it’s no big deal. “But everybody knows life isn’t worth living….Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.”

The book is a classic early modern work of anomie, alienation and a general indifference to life. It’s also perhaps a spin-off from Crime and Punishment. Today, a novel like this would take us back to Meursault’s childhood to show us why he turned out like this. Camus doesn’t do that, so we can only speculate – or, perhaps, attribute it to genetics.

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As a classic in English translation a lot has been made of its opening and closing sentences. In the edition I read the first sentence is translated as “Maman died today.” Should it be “Today, mother died?” On the last page is a sentence: “…I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.” Should it be instead, “I laid my heart open to the gentle indifference of the universe?” I’m reminded of the review I did of Mogens by Jens Peter Jacobsen where the foreword tells us that the author felt it would be a different story if it began “It was summer,” rather than “Summer it was…” Still a great classic.

Beni Said Beach from skyscrapercity.com
Photo of the author from port-magazine.com
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
October 1, 2017 – Finished Reading
October 7, 2017 – Shelved
October 7, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
October 7, 2017 – Shelved as: french-authors

Comments Showing 1-32 of 32 (32 new)

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Susana I didn't get this book. I really enjoyed Crime and Punishment. Although I can understand the connection you made between the two, for me they stand on the opposite ends of the scale...


message 2: by Maureen (new)

Maureen Great review Jim.


Nelson Zagalo You must frame the work as part of the philosophical approach called absurdism, which is part of the existentialist branch.

I really loved this book, it is in my top 10. Camus really blew my world in my first read.


message 4: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Maureen wrote: "Great review Jim."

Thanks Maureen


message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Susana wrote: "I didn't get this book. I really enjoyed Crime and Punishment. Although I can understand the connection you made between the two, for me they stand on the opposite ends of the scale..."
I thought they were akin simply because both were senseless murders and the murderer feels no remorse


message 6: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Nelson wrote: "You must frame the work as part of the philosophical approach called absurdism, which is part of the existentialist branch.

I really loved this book, it is in my top 10. Camus really blew my world..."

I can see the existentialism and the absurdism but the main character seems to just give up and not fight or try to improve anything


message 7: by Jaline (new)

Jaline Very thought-provoking review, Jim - well done! :)


Outis Jim wrote: "... but the main character seems to just give up and not fight or try to improve anything"
Why the "but"?

Rather than simply not improving anything, he makes things worse, repeatedly.
His story is like a Rorschach blot. You say the four extra gunshots is what got him convincted. But there are a bunch of other reasons in the text, and none of them really make sense. Which is the point.
So the novel has no business explaining him. He's no more realistic a character than the story anyway.


message 9: by Pattie (new)

Pattie Excellent review, Jim.


message 10: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Jaline wrote: "Very thought-provoking review, Jim - well done! :)"

Thanks Jaline


message 11: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Outis wrote: "Jim wrote: "... but the main character seems to just give up and not fight or try to improve anything"
Why the "but"?

Rather than simply not improving anything, he makes things worse, repeatedly.
..."

So....... absurdist


message 12: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Pattie wrote: "Excellent review, Jim."

Glad you liked it Pattie


message 13: by Selena (new)

Selena Fantastic Review


message 14: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Selena wrote: "Fantastic Review"

Thanks Selena


message 15: by Ken (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ken One thorough "short" review! Well done--that's the long and the short of it!


message 16: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Ken wrote: "One thorough "short" review! Well done--that's the long and the short of it!"

Thanks Ken, you should see the LONG ones! lol


message 17: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Hajar wrote: "Brilliant review, Jim. Glad you loved it!"

Thanks Hajar! Second time around, I had read it years ago.


David Great review, Jim. I loved that book but read it many years ago so thanks for the refresher.

As for the opening line, your second choice follows the French. "Today, mother died."

One day I will attempt the original (ha that might be a far fetched sim).


message 19: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca David wrote: "Great review, Jim. I loved that book but read it many years ago so thanks for the refresher.

As for the opening line, your second choice follows the French. "Today, mother died."

One day I will ..."


I only know French from a couple of years in college, but why couldn't it also be "Today, mother is dead." ?


Outis "Today, mother is dead." would be technically correct as far as the grammar is concerned. I don't think that sounds as natural in English as in French. Translating deliberately weird and ambiguous writing into elegant prose is going to cost the translation some accuracy so I don't think erring on the side of literal translation is necessarily the wrong approach when it comes to this book. All translations work well enough anyway since the main point is that she died.
The hard part isn't the grammar but the semantics: the French for "mother" isn't used in the first sentence, only in the message the main character received.


David Jim wrote: "David wrote: "Great review, Jim. I loved that book but read it many years ago so thanks for the refresher.

As for the opening line, your second choice follows the French. "Today, mother died."

O..."


Yes it can be.... "aujourdui, maman est mort.


message 22: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Outis wrote: ""Today, mother is dead." would be technically correct as far as the grammar is concerned. I don't think that sounds as natural in English as in French. Translating deliberately weird and ambiguous ..."

Ah, very interesting, thanks


message 23: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca David wrote: "Jim wrote: "David wrote: "Great review, Jim. I loved that book but read it many years ago so thanks for the refresher.

As for the opening line, your second choice follows the French. "Today, moth..."

Thanks David


message 24: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee Really enjoyed your review...I have wanted to read this since age 14 and for some reason it has evaded me !!


message 25: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Jaidee wrote: "Really enjoyed your review...I have wanted to read this since age 14 and for some reason it has evaded me !!"
Thanks Jaidee, if you read it I hope you like it


Aicha Hascar I liked your review, i'm reading it in French. ^_^


message 27: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Aicha wrote: "I liked your review, i'm reading it in French. ^_^"

Great! You can solve the mystery of the first sentence!


Mariah Roze Our Diversity in All Forms Book Club is reading this for February. We’d love to have you join the discussion on it. :) https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...


message 29: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Mariah wrote: "Our Diversity in All Forms Book Club is reading this for February. We’d love to have you join the discussion on it. :) https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/..."
ok thanks Mariah, I'll check into the discussion


message 30: by Ushasree (new)

Ushasree N Lovely review. :)


message 31: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Fonseca Ushasree wrote: "Lovely review. :)"

Thanks Ushasree, I am glad that you liked it.


Mariah Roze Jim wrote: "Mariah wrote: "Our Diversity in All Forms Book Club is reading this for February. We’d love to have you join the discussion on it. :) https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/......"

Awesome! We'd love to have you!!


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