I was wandering through Liz’s bookshelf late last night Friday, flipping through her various Albert Camus books. The name “CAMUS” sits visibly on our living room shelf at all times, backed by a bold, all caps font. I see these books all the time from our couch, and something about the design, the name, and the little bit of romanticism I have associated with Albert Camus, pulls me, entices me – particularly so when I saw how short The Stranger is.
This is not a proper review so I will simply jot down my thoughts.
Our main character – it took me a moment to realize what a lack of empathy he has. That he almost has no feelings, coupled with very little attention span. That while he has some intentions (he enjoys lying his head on a pretty woman, for instance), the naivety he displays in regards to the feelings of others is almost passive aggressive if it weren’t so sincere. Those feelings just aren’t there, along with the inability to reflect on why or feel any sense of shame or guilt.
He’s not particularly ill-willed or good-willed though. He just is. He is very simple.
And he floats along through different situations like the wind is blowing him. It blows him either here, or there. To him it might as well be the same.
He murders a knife-wielding man on the beach, shooting him several times.
He goes to trial & is condemned to death.
While it’s happening, he barely understands the gravity of what’s going on around him, and has almost no foresight into what this means for his future.
During the year long trial, he passes the time in his cell using his memory, playing games in his head with his thoughts. He exists like a bit of a Buddha, not holding onto things, not fretting about the past or the future. He remembers that his Mother has told him you can always make something good with a situation.
But once he is condemned to die, his thoughts race: if only I can find an exception to the rule, some hope that a man condemned to die in the past had found a way out, I can hold on to that as my hope. He is obsessed with finding something to latch onto that gives him hope of beating the guillotine.
This is where the book gets particularly interesting as we are privy to his anxious thoughts, grappling with death as it stares him in the face. What is Camus trying to say? That there is some kind of consent between those who condemn a human being to die, the person doing the dying? That death meets everyone eventually, either here, or there, and to him it’s all the same anyway? That life is so absurd – that a person could find themselves burying their Mother, psuedo-engaged, a murderer, a prisoner, a death row inmate, and throughout nearly all of it not have much of a care of what’s happening, even a disconnect to what’s happening either through ignorance, selfishness, or emotional blockage?
I know little of Camus beyond that he is in with the existentialist camp and he is associated with ideas of the “absurd.” Our character here is in a hopelessly absurd situation – swept along with life until he finds himself sentenced to death by society – and now grappling with his impending death, trying to make sense of it, and trying to justify that what does it matter if it happens now or later, because we all die anyway. The answer seems to me to be the crux of this book.
A very enjoyable read, and a super quick one too.
As of yet, I’ve not let myself read any analysis of the book as I wanted to simmer on it and just let it brew.