Book Reviews · Original Posts

Book Review: The Stranger

the stranger

I had to read The Stranger by Albert Camus (he’s French, so it’s pronounced Camu) for my English class. It was definitely worth the read, despite frustrations and weirdness. Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.” First published in English in 1946; now in a new translation by Matthew Ward.

Firstly, a note about translations: there are two English translations from the original French. One is British English, one is American English. If you are American, I strongly recommend reading the English translation done by Matthew Ward. The British translation adds lots of normal conversational phrases Brits would use that aren’t in the original French. That’s fine, because it makes the work more accessible, but it also changes the tone and implications of the book.

The Stranger is written as an unmarked journal, meaning basically it’s told as if Meursault (the main character) was writing in a journal, but he doesn’t mark the beginning or end of entries in any way. This format allows the story to be told from multiple points in time, showing the evolution of Meursault’s beliefs and feelings.

Meursault, however, is really difficult to root for as a main character. He seems utterly emotionless, and some of his reactions to human events don’t make sense to most people.  I won’t spoil anything, but there were a few moments where my annotations for class were all caps and ANGRY. Many moments, actually.

Plotwise, the book is also slow, despite its brevity. Because Meursault’s not real tuned into social cues, he narrates even insignificant-sounding details of his time. The book is broken into two parts- one builds from the death of his mother to a murder, and one deals with the aftermath of that murder. Much of the book is his internal monologue as time passes without Meursault’s engagement in the world around him.

The writing seems choppy, both due to the nature of translated works and Camus’s design. The blunt, strictly factual writing makes Meursault himself even more difficult to emotionally reach or understand.

However, fear not! There is a plan! Camus was a philosopher more than a writer; his idol was Friedrich Nietzsche. However, Camus was absurdist, not existentialist. He believed that lack of a belief in any god did not mean that every man was an island, as Nietzsche did. That’s an extreme simplification- if you want to read about Camus’s absurdism, check out his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” or his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. Camus also grew up in Algeria, where The Stranger takes place, and many of the struggles between the native population and colonists in the book were parallels from Camus’s own life. Here’s a really good biography of Camus. 

Though The Stranger is frustrating for pleasure reading, it’s one of the most intricate, deliberate books I’ve ever read, which makes it awesome for literary analysis, particularly if you understand his context. It was hard to rate this book for pleasure, but I think it’s a solid 4/5 stars. However, it’s definitely an Important Book- it really makes the reader stop and consider their own faith. I found The Stranger very affirming in this area, but I think that’s also up to personal interpretation. Everyone should read this at some point.

No, I’m not going to tell you how I interpreted this complicated, important read! You’ll have to do that yourself, and no two people will get the same thing. (Also, it would take me forever to explain it). Here are just a few quotes:

“I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world.”

“If something is going to happen to me, I want to be there.”

“And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness.”

“I felt the urge to reassure him that I was like everybody else, just like everybody else.”

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Well, what do you think? Have you read The Stranger? If you haven’t, have I scared you off, or are you intrigued? I promise it’s an interesting read! Tell me below!

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