Book Review: The Stranger, by Albert Camus

I should change the title of these things to “Was Reading”: this morning I finished reading The Stranger by Albert Camus.

The book briefly details the life of a man, Meursault, before and after he murders another man on an Algerian beach.  The story is told in the terse, detached style of other romans noir of the time, such as James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.  When I first read these books at 18, this style thrilled hell out of me.

And I still enjoy the simple sentences and phrases employed by these authors, albeit in modified form, especially in the novels and stories of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver.  But reading The Stranger now, I find the style distracts rather than adds to the story.  Philosophy aside, what I don’t like about Camus’ first novel (or at least this translation of it) is that the narrator Meursault seems so detached from his own story that, as the reader, you’re not even sure why he’s telling it.  Especially before the murder.  The story is narrated in such a bland, matter-of-fact tone that it is simply boring — the reader is as bored as Meursault sounds.

Plus, the novel illustrates the problem of the noir voice taken to its extreme: endless exposition.  The whole thing reads like a long list in paragraph form.  For example, take the beginning of this paragraph from Part 1, Chapter 4:

I worked hard all week.  Raymond stopped by and told me he’d sent the letter.  I went to the movies twice with Emmanuel, who doesn’t always understand what’s going on on the screen.  So you have to explain things to him.  Yesterday was Saturday, and Marie came over as we’d planned.

I know this is supposed to illustrate how detached Meursault is from the world around him, but before the murder, there simply isn’t enough of drama to carry the story forward.  Afterwards, however, it picks up.  Meursault is put on trial for the crime.  The magistrate and others attempt to convince Meursault that he has sinned, but he simply doesn’t get it.  Will he be sentenced to death or won’t he?  Will he ever see the error of his crime?  Will he finally feel that something–anything–matters?

If you’ve read the book then you know the answer.  I know a lot of people enjoy The Stranger.  As for me, not so much.  Sorry.

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One thought on “Book Review: The Stranger, by Albert Camus

  1. I don’t think Meursault does care. At any point. But that’s partly the beauty of it for me; he is indifferent to a world that is indifferent to him – no matter how much he engages with the world, his ultimate fate is fixed, as are all men’s. I’ve just finished writing a review and an analysis of The Outsider, they might not persuade you that the book is worth another try, but on the other hand, they might offer some further thoughts on a strange, little book. 🙂

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