Chris's Reviews > The Stranger

The Stranger by Albert Camus
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did not like it

If every few words of praise I’ve seen for “The Stranger” over my lifetime materialized into small chunks of rock in space, there’d be enough sh!t to conjure up the Oort Cloud. Much like this distant collection of debris bordering the outer solar system, I can’t really comprehend the acclaim heaped on this story, but luckily, like the Cloud, it’s usually out of sight, out of mind, and has absolutely no discernable current influence on my life. And just like the Oort can occasionally spit a chunk of sh!t at the earth and devastate all life upon it, so too can I hear/read some lip service paid to “The Stranger” resulting in my transition to Freak-Out Mode, resulting in me slapping someone in the face, usually someone I have to deal with again at some point in time (if only in court).

Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is. Armed with a 100-word vocabulary, a meager 123 pages to bore one with, and a character who simply doesn’t seem to give much of a damn, Camus somehow shook the world of literature with this inane garbage. I haven’t sat down to conduct a thorough analysis, but using some reasonable guesstimation I will say that the average sentence in this book is about eight words long. I’m not asking that every sentence in a book run the length of a page, but the end result when employed by Camus was that either a twelve year old or some sort of retarded robot wrote this. (Cue robot voice) It struck me as strange. The sentences were so short. It was very peculiar. This could be read very fast. I began to read this on the train on my in to work. I finished it on my way back home.

Who the hell writes like that? More importantly, who the hell reads a book like that and suspects therein lay some complexity? Each time I noticed how condensed everything was it occurred to me that somehow the literati had spent all this time adoring the published equivalent of a commercial.

Here’s a snapshot of the dude we’re supposed to give a hoot about. He doesn’t readily assimilate to or accept the conventional mores everyone else seems accustomed to. He’s not overly concerned, but he seemingly knows there’s some kind of disconnect. He’s also not out to go f#ck with the system for lack of anything better to do or in some attempt to make a statement. He’s pretty emotionless, he shows some genuine concern for himself at times, but even those close to him really aren’t too significant in his grand picture. His testicles are extremely small and sterile, and he fondles them often.

Not long after the death of his mother, Our Hero is chilling on the beach when some Arabs come around looking to start sh!t with an acquaintance of his, and after a small skirmish earlier in the day, Our Man goes back down to the beach and shoots an Arab. He gets arrested and pretty much just goes with the flow, he rolls over and let’s the prosecution have their way with his scrawny white ass. The whole time he pretty much just thinks it’s all pretty ridiculous and isn’t too concerned with the proceedings.

I wasn’t too concerned about the book. More than anything I was just bored with it. There was no build up, there was no action, there was no climax. There was nothing funny, nothing exciting, nothing interesting, and nothing to really take away from the book; just the same words repeating over and over, grouped in strings of seven or eight. The longest sentence in the book was also the only thing which I found even remotely amusing: “Finally I realized that some of the old people were sucking at the insides of their cheeks and making these weird smacking noises”. That isn’t particularly funny, but compared to the rest of the book it was comedic gold.

“The Stranger” is some seriously weak shit. I’ve gotten more enjoyment from looking a map of Kentucky.
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Reading Progress

May 5, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading
May 7, 2008 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 102 (102 new)

message 1: by Nick (new)

Nick I think you are suffering from post avant-canon disillusionment syndrome, the ony cure for which is probably something like just climbing a tree in your best suit.

message 2: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I think one needs to take into consideration the time in which the novel was written and the fact that Camus broke ground with it in terms of theme & style. I don't know the translation you read; maybe it wasn't as good as it might have been. I read the book years ago (high school) and the alienation expressed spoke to me, gave me solace somehow. Reading the plot summed up like that, it does sound pretty shitty, pretty meaningless, but the effect created is--I still believe--a tour de force. True, I should revisit it to see its effect on me now. Perhaps I will.

Books Ring Mah Bell I have yet to read this book... maybe I won't?

your review is fantastic.

message 4: by Jessica (new)

Jessica BRMB, you should read it. It's short & not taxing. Besides, we want you to weigh in on it.

Jessica Spoiler alert: his mom dies.

Books Ring Mah Bell After that book on the Khmer Rouge, I need something "light".

no more death for a bit.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Who the hell writes like that?

Um, well, for starters, Albert Camus did, and he kicked ass.

message 8: by Tosh (new) - added it

Tosh And Camus sort of based the book on the writing style of James Cain, who wrote "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

Bryan And isn't Hemingway known for his simple, terse style?

message 10: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Absolutely. Of course Hemingway learned much from Getrude Stein, who was above all a stylist, and desreves credit.

Michael I feel about this book much what the main character feels about life and his circumstances.


message 12: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 04, 2008 08:00AM) (new)

It's a peronsal taste thing, I guess, but I think it's very fitting that a book about ennui should be terse, simplistic in vocabulary, and somewhat uninvolving (in the traditional, plot-driven sense). It's supposed to evoke that mood, after all. Maybe the detractors here have just never experienced ennui. In that sense, they are lucky or unlucky, depending upon one's perspective. I vote for unlucky.

message 13: by Robert (last edited Jun 04, 2008 10:44AM) (new) - added it

Robert It's true that critics, academics, readers often put too much weight on a book for the work to bear. I feel that way about OLD MAN AND THE SEA--a good book but no classic and certainly not the Hemingway to put on school reading lists.

But for me THE STRANGER, like certain childhood trauamas, will always be there in my emotional life. It captured in a profound and unsettling way something central about daily life, and living in the world. Its formal austerity is that of a world stripped of value. And while identifying with a numb narrator like Mersault presents its difficulties, I think anyone who's felt like an alien in their own culture or time, forced to participate in rituals that are meaningless to them, can make the leap.

But, hey, if you didn't like it, you didn't like it.

Now a question on the translation: Which one did you read? I loved the old one by Stuart Gilbert (now out of print but easy to find). The new one by Matthew Ward sucks. For instance, he fucks up the book's great first line by using "Maman" instead of mother, which may be more accurate, but confuses 95% of English readers who don't understand French pronunciation; they're left scratching their heads wondering what a "muh-man" is instead of being seduced into the narrative. Worse still, using the French severs the primal emotional connection the word "mother" (or even "mom" or "mama") has with English speakers. For many of us, it was our first word! And it's a word that immediately chafes against the nonchalant tone of the second line... Agh!

message 14: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I agree with you by the way about "The Old Man and The Sea." A good story, but not a great one. and too freighted with symbolism...give me his shorts stories instead.
I also agree about translation. I had this experience w/ "Death in Venice." The translation makes all the difference in the world when it comes to that novella. They vary widely. It's a terrific novel w/ some shoddy, distorting translations...

message 15: by Chris (new) - rated it 1 star

Chris Hey Robert,
I might have to check out the Gilbert translation, and why not, i've already read this several times, once more won't kill me.
The copy i've always had is the sucky Matthew Ward translation.
It's possible that his translation is what makes it lame, but the 'Maman'-thing didn't bother me.

message 16: by Chadwick (new)

Chadwick Agh! You ruined it!

message 17: by Tyler (last edited Jun 27, 2008 12:24PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tyler I just read The Stranger. I liked it, but I also had an inkling what to expect and may have made allowances for it in advance. Still, it was a unique experience, and being a short read, little time was invested one way or other.

Regardless, Chris's review is superb. Even my favorite author has weaknesses, and it's helpful to point them out. Despite the popularity of 20th-century literary genres, they have vulnerabilities, too, and the truncated sentences and vocabularies are among them.

Andras I loved the book because it was the first time a character in a book actually thought like I do. I also liked the short sentences. Most book have to much adjectives i shit that just bore me.

Rachel I love you for this review. It's good to know I'm not the only one who didn't get anything out of this book either. :)

message 20: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Your review really made me laugh. :)

James Your review of the book is quite like the manner in which its main character saw life itself, in a way, Mersualt could have written your review on this book about his own life (perhaps minus the Kansas part). In this way this book does what many important books purportedly should do but often don't: be active examples of what they espouse - and turn readers, if only momentarily, into their characters.

Raven James, you said it perfectly. Amen, brother.

message 23: by Jay (new) - added it

Jay Sparks Nice review, Chris. I liked the book more than you did, but as others have said, it was important for its time, it influenced much work that came after it, and at the end of the day....ehhh, not much there. Certainly not enough to call it a classic.

Elizabeth James wrote: "Your review of the book is quite like the manner in which its main character saw life itself, in a way, Mersualt could have written your review on this book about his own life (perhaps minus the Ka..."

nicely put.

Heather I second what Rachel said - I love you for this review. The book did nothing to move me, much less qualify its place amongst great classic literature. What a bore it was, and the main character was bordering on being a sociopath, except that he didn't generally seek out wrongdoings to commit.

message 26: by Toki (last edited May 12, 2009 10:51AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Toki I didn't like this book but it was slightly more interesting than a map of Kentucky.

message 27: by Tony (last edited May 20, 2009 12:24PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tony Your review was funny, I guess (I like the closing line), but let me draw you a diagram:

--------------------- (this line represents the point of the book)

-------------------------(this line represents your head)

Jamie Ward "Lying is not only saying what isn't true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler. But, contrary to appearances, Meursault doesn't want to make simpler. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings and society immediately feels threatened."--Camus

The writing style is intentional. It's straight to the point and always looking straight up at the sun. There are no shadows and no superfluous distractions steeped in verbose pointlessness. The book was narrated-as you said-by a man who didn't give a shit whether he was deemed "fit for society" so do you really think it necessary that the narrative of the novel be anything different? Through this specific style, Camus creates another layer to his novel upon which to build his character and story. You obviously did not grasp such intent.

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

Jon Kudos to you Jamie for calling Chris out. I won't comment on the review, but the comments mostly made me confused. I guess people feel the need to suck up to someone they've never met who clearly doesn't acknowledge what the book really is, treating it like its some sparsely written melodrama rather than a book trying to capture ennui on the page. I guess people really hate reading the Stranger in high school. I was fortunate enough to read it for the first time as a junior in college.

message 30: by Jon (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jon If you want to read a single book to explain the (French) concept of existentialism I would go with Nausea. The Stranger is a pretty good yarn for the sake of the story itself, and for the social satire about the French legal system and the oftentimes absurdity of social norms.

I don't know that "The Fall" covers the same ground, but it is also an excellent read, more about guilt and the dissonance between the ideal self and the actual self.

message 31: by Erin (new) - rated it 1 star

Erin I couldn't agree more. Your review makes me feel relieved that I'm not the only person who completely wasted my time with this rubbish! You also gave me a reason to find amusement with the book, even though the book itself was not remotely entertaining.

Liams I am glad I found someone who thinks of this book as little as I do. Luckily for me, although I had heard about the title before, I didn't know exactly what the book was about, so I didn't have any high expectations. However, after reading it and checking a review here, it struck me how I didn't notice while reading the book, that the author had an existential crisis. Quite the opposite, it looked to me like Meursault didn't care about anything or anyone at all, let alone the meaning or purpose of life.
Before reading your review, I also noted in mine that the most annoying thing about The Stranger is the very short sentences. It's not about what translation you're reading, I read the book in French, and it was equally boring.
Although there are apparently more people who like the book than those who dislike it, I am glad I don't feel lonely anymore.
PS: The last two paragraphs of your review are my favorite.

message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

To be honest, the only thing I could think while reading your review is that the reason you don't get this book is that you're the kind of person who uses the word "guesstimation."

message 34: by Anil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anil Before reading The Stranger,I had read The Name of the Rose,and believe me,The Stranger gave me a breath after Eco's long sentences and descriptions possibly you'd like.

Anyway,it is told in first person and protagonist (narrator) is just an average individual so why would he has to use imposing sentences? If it were like that,it would be bad for the realism of the book.

Enjoying the book or not is one thing but calling it simply "a rubbish" and "waste of time". Well it is too cruel.

message 35: by Maru (new) - rated it 4 stars

Maru Soto Alcaraz First time I read this book I thought the same way you did, and I was sixteen years old. I believed that a literature masterpiece should be written properly with an extense and cult vocabulary. The simple structure of sentence bored me and our "hero" really disliked me.
I never realized that the essential part of "The Stranger" was in the ideas Camus introduced about atheism and existentialism until I read it again few months ago.
Sometimes those kinds of things happen with books. You read one and it doesn't like you because you don't agree with the author but maybe over the years you change your mind and if you read it one more time you may enjoy it.

 Amina Well, it is completely dedicated to absurdism. It's going to be ridiculous.

message 37: by Thestranger (new)

Thestranger It's a philosophy book, not a Western. The reason for the simple sentences is because that was Camus' style. It's the same in "The Plague." Granted, Plato's "Republic" reads more intellectually, but this was the cafe' style of writing philosophy, started by Sartre, using the novel format to explore principle. Always do a background check at Wikipedia on a philosophical book. "The Stranger" has to do with justice and responsibility, plus, Camus was an absurdist, finding meaning in himself, not the world. The issue regarding the Arab had to do with how the French regarded Arabs back then, which was as unfriendly, and Camus' character acts not according to French protocol of the time. As an instructor of philosophy, I recommend researching the philosopher's point of view of philosophy before reading his/her writings. None of them are writing for adventure and entertainment, but enlightenment based on their own perspectives. That's how you read a philosophical novel.

Jeremy Chris: Looking through the books I like on this site I saw you crop up on several with one star reviews, so I clicked on your total reviews. You don't seem to really like books much! Maybe you should take up another past-time? I think I would if I had read as many one and two star'ers as you seem to have.

Vanessa Wu Hi Chris!
Q.1 How come your review is nearly as long as the book?
Q.2 Are you a member of a gun club?
Q.3 Who are you more angry at, Camus, the people who like his book or someone else?

Gretchen It was a good read, but honestly, I didn't get much out of it either. I already knew the point Camus was trying to make. I get it.

message 41: by Jamie (new) - rated it 1 star

Jamie I felt the same way after reading Keroac's "On the Road" - a useless story about the useless travels of a useless person - a triple-threat!

message 42: by Jon (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jon After looking over the comments again, and being exasperated about how people could be so dismissive, I realized I probably was helped by reading it during a university course. It's not really what you would expect from such a hevily praised book. The prose is extremely lean and efficient, which I love. Also, there really isn't a tremendous amount of plot: Spoilers, he shoots an arab man in what may or may not have been a mistake.

But, it is still one of the best books I have ever read, a bona fide life changer. That being said, for people who say things about how nothing happens or that Mersault is overly bland, check out Sartre's Nausea, it actually touches on a lot of the same ideas (why are we here? What things in life have intrinsic value?) but things are mostly thought out loud, on the page, so to speak.

message 43: by Nez (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nez If you look at the book in a philosophical perspective, it explores nihilism - nothing matters to Mersault. Mersault is a nihilist and that's why there is no need for action, humour, anything interesting. It is the way a nihilist views life.

Sdranuski I love your review and couldn't agree more. I decided not to torture myself reading the entire book and stopped at page 50. Amusingly, the old people making weird smaking noises line stuck out to me too. I thought maybe I didn't like his writing style, but in all honesty, I found his style simplistic. It was similar to reading the diary of someone with minimal thought process.

Calvin You sound like you wrote this review after playing Call of Duty for 5 hours. You seem to have no ability to read between lines, or understand anything that isn't literal and obvious. You also have no concept of what it means to feel helpless, probably because you spend your time in direct control of some video game character and have yet to enter a career.

Georg I don't agree with the review, but I admire the reviewer's braveness. Everybody knows that you will go directly to the literature-hell after comparing Camus' opus magnum with a Kentucky map. There you will be punished by an infinite reading of "Breaking Dawn".

message 47: by Paweł (new)

Paweł Paprota You are a noob, sir.

Gretchen Georg wrote: "I don't agree with the review, but I admire the reviewer's braveness. Everybody knows that you will go directly to the literature-hell after comparing Camus' opus magnum with a Kentucky map. There ..."

Ha, ha!

message 49: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara Skuplik I loved reading your unique review. I was laughing so hard by the end of it. You certainly made your point very clear! Thank you

Jennifer I don't understand everyone defending the style by saying it was supposed to be that way. That's like eating boiled chicken with no seasoning and saying, "It's supposed to be bland!"

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