Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Outsider by Albert Camus (4.5/5) [Re-read]

The back says: Albert Camus’ laconic masterpiece about a Frenchman who murders an Arab in colonial Algeria is famous for diagnosing a state of alienation and spiritual exhaustion which summed up the mood of the mid-twentieth century. Today, more than fifty years after its first appearance, we can see that the success of this Existentialist classic was no passing fashion. One of the most influential books of the century, The Outsider continues to speak to us of ultimate things with the force of the parable and the excitement of a thriller.

In other words: The Outsider (also known as The Stranger) starts off with Meursault going to bury his mother, whom he has put in a home. Once there he doesn’t cry or show much emotion. The following day he goes swimming and then the cinema with his girlfriend. A while later he finds himself on a beach where he unfortunately shoots and kills a man.

I say: To say that I love this would be an understatement. This is the fourth time I’m reading it; the first being in English, the second in Swedish (bad translation), and then twice again in English. The best thing about Camus is his no nonsense style of writing; his language is very plain, without any pretensions.

But then again, he was an existentialist absurdist (and no, that doesn't mean anything at all).

Truth be told, there really isn’t much to the plot itself, but everything surrounding it and what/how that makes you feel. This is the main reason why I keep re-reading it, because every time I do, the nuances change and learn something new about myself. The first time I read this I thought Mersault had some kind of disorder that made him disconnected from the world around him (Asperger syndrome), but the past couple of reads I have envied him.

I used to be like Mersault.

And now I’m not.

This last read has also made me wonder if I have thus gone from being an existentialist to a nihilist to an absurdist.

But those things are irrelevant. What matters is that although I could talk about The Outsider for days, I shall refrain from doing so here.

The reason I only give this 4.5/5 is because I always feel like there’s something lacking between the murder and the end. I don’t know what that is, but the end feels so rushed in comparison to how much Camus’ spent talking about the funeral in the beginning.

Or maybe I’m missing something.

Guess, I’ll have to read it again to find out.

Although, I really hate it when people explain books to me before I read them, I’ll include Camus’ explanation after the jump because it does make a lot more sense than my random ramblings, but be aware that it contains spoilers.

A long time ago, I summed up The Outsider in a sentence which I realize is extremely paradoxical: ‘in our society any man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral I liable to be condemned to death.’ I simply meant that the hero of the book is condemned because he doesn’t play the game. In this sense, he is an outsider to the society in which he lives, wandering on the fringe, on the outskirts of life, solitary and sensual. And for that reason, some readers have been tempted to regard him as a reject. […] He refuses to lie. Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and, in the case of the human heart, 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 life simpler. He says what he is, he refuses to hide his feelings and society immediately feels threatened. For example, he is asked to say that he regrets his crime, in time-honoured fashion. He replies that he feels more annoyance about it than true regret. And it is this nuance that condemns him.
- Afterword, p. 115

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