Guest Review: The Stranger by Albert Camus

Today I have a guest review by Katheryn Rivas! Here she talks about The Stranger by Albert Camus. I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with this book until this guest review, but it’s now on my list. It had me on existentialism.

About the book
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.

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The Stranger by Albert Camus

A review by Katheryn Rivas

This was my first time reading The Stranger, for which I feel a bit guilty. I remember noticing that a lot of my friends read it in high school. But in retrospect they were probably taking French. I’m not surprised French teachers would use this book for teenagers to translate, since, apart from being cool (in a sort of alienated hipster way), the laconic prose style must be easy to work with.

That was the first thing I noticed about how the book works: this very clipped, direct language. We in the Anglophone world might call it Hemingway prose, or Dashiell Hammett prose. Then again, I’m not sure if that may be a result of the fashion at the time this translation was done. (I have an old Vintage paperback with the Stuart Gilbert translation.) But I doubt Stuart would have drastically tampered with the entire sentence structure of the novel in any case, so I think it’s safe to characterize it as I have, even though I don’t have the French in front of me.

As for the plot, I don’t want to give away too much, but our “hero” is an Algerian man named Meursault. The book starts out with him being informed of his mother’s death. His reaction is interesting to watch unfold, and could be chalked up to shock, or might, rather, be seen as revealing something “strange” and alienated about his personality.

The next thing that struck me was the equally impressive economy regarding characterization. On the first page Meursault apologizes to his employer for his mother’s death, saying, “Sorry, sir, but it’s not my fault, you know,” and then reflects that he had no reason to say that. Then on page 3, after the nursing home director describes the mother’s three years of residency, Meursault narrates, ‘I had a feeling he was blaming me for something, and started to explain.’ Thus as soon as we begin the novel, a pattern is established: Meursault is harassed by a diffuse and inexplicable guilt, but it is social or other-centered, and he takes great pains to never really internalize this or take it to heart. He accepts every moment of his fate in a way that is so detached that it’s hard to be sure whether it’s saintly or pathological.

The third and final thing I want to note about this book is the neatness of its structure. The climactic event (which you may have heard of, from a song title by the Cure for instance, but I won’t spoil it) takes place exactly halfway through the book. The subsequent trial sequence allows almost every character named in the first half to reappear in the changed circumstances of the second. This is an elegant, almost diagrammatic plot, like one sees in folk tales.

The simplicity of this plot structure helps Camus hang his philosophical ideas with the precision of a formula. It’s an interesting halfway step between a pulp novel and a philosophical tract, and I’m not surprised it’s become a classic.

Author Bio:
Katheryn Rivas is a higher education writer and blogger. When she’s not digging for information to report about the latest online universities news, she can be found playing with her two Saint Bernards, Chica and Chico. She can be reached at katherynrivas87 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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