The Stranger by Albert Camus

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I could not put down the 140-page novella The Stranger by Albert Camus after I picked it up, despite the fact that it is odd and rather disturbing. Camus’ Nobel Prize-winning writing style was absolutely beautiful: it reminded me of both John Steinbeck’s in The East of Eden (which I thought was a perfect combination of showing without telling: he painted a picture) and J.M. Coetzee’s in Life & Times of Michael K (it was sparse and simple; reviewed here). And yet, Camus’ subject showed that life is pretty meaningless.

The back cover gave up the main crux of the story, but reading it was still worthwhile.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers: A man living a pretty meaningless, boring life, finds his life changed dramatically. And yet, to him it doesn’t matter. Life is life because he lives it. Does it matter how he lives it?

Albert Camus was a philosopher often given the label of “existentialist.” According to Wikipedia, he resisted that label and instead claimed he delved “deeply into individual freedom.” Reading The Stranger after my brief introduction to philosophy last month was interesting because it brought the philosophy of ethics to light. The main character of The Stranger acted without considering what was ethically right or wrong. He acted based on impulse, and failed to regret what he did. His inability to express remorse translated into his downfall.

Albert Camus’ writing was amazing, and while the book was odd and somewhat uncomfortable in its themes, it certainly stayed with me, despite its brevity.

For more information, Wikipedia discusses the philosophy behind The Stranger (with spoilers). While the story was straight forward and not unnecessarily full of philosophy, to completely understand the character, one needs to understand the philosophy. I defer to others for that; I’m sure I missed a lot.

I read this for the 9 for 09 challenge, under free (received via Bookmooch). I could also categorize it as “ugliest cover in the world.” (Mine had this cover.)  I also read it for the Nobel Challenge.

What is the strangest book you’ve read recently?

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed The Stranger on your site, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add it here.

Reviewed on March 4, 2009

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • It’s really hard to tell what to say about this book, isn’t it? The book focuses so much on the meaninglessness of everything that each event in the book holds pretty much equal weight, from the cafe lunches to the big spoilers I won’t mention.

    I agree that your cover was hideous…

  • I don’t think I’ve ever seen a good cover for The Stranger (only passable ones).

    I read this book for two separate classes in high school – in English for a humanities class, and in French for (duh) French class. I remember feeling that some of the existentialist ennui was lost in translation (maybe French is just more languid to my ears). However, so much of the philosophy is expressed in character actions rather than specific word choices that the translation did not lose any of the impact of the original. Both are creepy and thought-provoking.

  • I also read this for my senior French class, and maybe it’s because of that, but I remember very little about it, even though I had to write an essay (in French, no less!) about it… I have dabbled with the idea of reading it again, but I would definitely want to do so in French. It would give me an excuse to grease the old language skills which have essentially been ossifying for the past 10 years or so. I did find an online copy in French that I started a few months back, and I was surprised that by and large the language didn’t pose the barrier I feared it would. I just don’t like reading things online, though! I’ll have to try to get my hands on a hard copy.

  • I read this book last year and really enjoyed it even though it is as you say a strange and rather uncomfortable read. I am (eventually) working my way through the Nobels, and I don’t think I realized that this was one of them, so thanks for mentioning it.

    I got the idea that the only things that he connected with was physicality. Mersault seemed happiest when he was doing something and experiencing it with his body- whether it was being with a woman, swimming or smoking. Beyond that nothing seemed to reach him. I’m not sure quite what to make of much of it, but it was very simply told and I can see it being one of those books that you read every so often and uncover another layer.

  • I’d heard lots about the disturbing elements of this book, but I never imagined the cover would be so hideous.
    There’s plenty worse out there, though. JRSM from Caustic Cover Critic had a funny post about e-book covers, and those are extreeeemly cringeworthy:

    Anyway, thanks for this review. I’ve been contemplating whether I should read this or not, but after reading your post, I think I will.

  • Amanda, you’re right: since the point is that everything is meaningless, every little meaningless detail is actually meaningful. Funny how that happens. I had a very hard time figuring out what to say for this “review.”

    Lily, It would have been interesting reading it for class. I think it would work well as a language training because you’re right, the actions are what is important. “creepy” is a word that works for me in describing this book!

    Steph, wow so many people read this in the original French! Impressive. I hope you can revisit it soon!

    Nicole, Yes, lots of layers here! Camus won the Nobel in 1957.

    Amy, sounds like one you’d like rereading!

    Tuesday, yeah, really don’t know where my cover came from. Very odd…Hope you enjoy the book, though!

  • Ditto to pretty much everything Steph said. I’d have to go back and read this again, but based on the statement about the main character that he, “acted without considering what was ethically right or wrong. He acted based on impulse, and failed to regret what he did.” I have to wonder, Was he an “existentialist” or a “psychopath?”

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