“It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.
To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”
Imagine killing a man. Properly killing someone, ending their life, for them to cease to be by your hands… How would you feel afterwards? And what motive could you possibly have to do such a thing, to commit such a heinous crime that it will swallow you from the inside, gnawing away at you until there’s nothing left but a hollow space where your soul used to reside though is now so worn by your crimes that it is scarcely even there any more? Cheery stuff. Doesn’t make you want to slit your wrists in the slightest. But this is the premise of Albert Camus’ seminal novel, ‘The Stranger’ and one that is one that’ll stay with you long after turning the last page. And though it may not be the easiest read, it is one that is nonetheless important and that will keep you thinking despite the gloomy plot. Explorations of characters, morality, guilt and lots of other ideas are discussed at great length over the 128 pages, which is a great feat to capture a snapshot of an unexplained crime and the aspects connected with it in so short a book.
But don’t judge a book by its cover or its size- this is a novel that tackles problems far greater than the ones we’d usually bother with, a peerless work of philosophical fiction that still shocks as much today as it did when it was first published. Camus’ classic existentialist work on his view of the absurdity of life may seem daunting to begin with, but I found it oddly relatable for a novel about a murderer. I’m not 100% whether this says more about me or about the book! Mersault is a French Algerian who kills a man without reason one warm summer’s day, whose story is told in two halves: before and after the murder, respectively. He is the quintessential outsider, scorned by society and an outcast on the skirts of civilization while the guillotine awaits patiently and the day of his execution draws ever nearer. It is surprising to see how our impassive protagonist is transformed (or rather not transformed) from the man who didn’t weep at his mother’s funeral to the one who keeps his cool composure when Death comes a-knocking. Courageously, he stands alone, as he always has and so it seems he always will.
I was worried about reading ‘The Stranger’ and that it would become the first book on the list so far that I’d yet to finish but my nerves dissipated a few chapters in, as I got to know Mersault and see how his mind worked. The murder itself happens about fifty percent of the way through as this is the struggle at the heart of the story, but between and after is a meticulous character study though one that is not too pretentious or cloying. The prose is fairly easy to read and though I wasn’t as won over by it as I was some of the other books on the list, it is one that I would recommend, though not as one to read on the beach maybe. Especially if there are any Arabs nearby.
‘The Stranger’ is available on Amazon in paperback (£6.29) and is not yet available on Kindle.