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In his Introduction to the first American edition of THE STRANGER (1955), Albert Camus summarized his novel in one sentence: "In our society, anybody who does not cry at his mother's funeral, risks to be sentenced to death".*) After publication in 1942 in France, the novel achieved notoriety and a kind of cult status for several generations of Camus readers, and was inspiration for philosophers and writers. Re-reading the novel now, forty years since first delving into Camus' writing, I find it as deeply affecting and thought provoking as then. With the hindsight of close to seventy years since it was written, THE STRANGER is not only a self-portrait of an "outsider", who appears to be drifting through life without aim or emotional depth. It is also a harsh critique of a society, reflected in the justice system, that is rigid and controlling and, by extension, overly judgemental towards anybody who is not "playing the game" or respecting "the mechanisms of society". Finally, it is also important to keep in mind that the novel was conceived during the devastating war in which Camus, although not in military service, was a politically highly active participant.

The novel opens with "Today, Maman is dead. Or maybe she died yesterday, I don't know". Meursault, the son and narrator of the story, travels to the nursing home for his mother's wake and funeral the next day. In short, simple sentences he describes the bare facts, the people he meets. Feelings? None, apparently. He doesn't even recall his mother's age. He returns home, meets a former colleague of his and embarks on an affair with her. Life returns to its habitual banality until he is approached by a neighbour for assistance with writing a letter. From then on events move towards a confrontation that leaves Meursault accused of a crime and leads to trial that, for him, takes place "outside of himself" but that, at the same time, brings him towards deeper reflection and new understanding of himself and the system that judges him.

Set in Algiers, the locale is of little importance, except for the vital role that desert sun, ocean and beach play in the protagonist's life. In its first part, the narrative appears at times superficial and naive and Meursault presents himself as an uninvolved and carefree young man who lives day by day. Nevertheless, the deeper underlying moral and existential questions that come to the fore in the second part may need this slow and detailed build-up developed in the first.

In the above mentioned introduction, Camus explained his book's underlying concern that he described to have been at odds with the perception of the readers of the day. Mersault was an "outsider" in the society where he lived who, at a more profound level, was condemned not for what he did, but for "speaking the truth". Was he judged for his criminal act or for the challenge challenge to society he embodied? In fact, during the court proceedings it emerges quickly that his lifestyle and behaviour was on trial. Meursault's commentary and his effort to make sense of what he hears during the trial reads today more like a farce, despite its sombre description of the circumstances. At one point the defence counsel, in obvious frustration, shouts: "Here, this is the image of this trial. All is true and nothing is true!". The ultimate confusion is created when when he imitates and, unintentionally, caricaturizes his client in front of the jury. " My fate was being settled without anybody asking my opinion", Meursault concludes. His trial spins into a direction that has no longer anything to do with him.

What, in the end has made Meursault a "stranger"? In his musings, he states that he cannot express emotions toward others as they do. Yet, when asked whether he loves his mother, his repeated answer is: "yes, like everybody else". When accused of the crime, the expression of culpability and regret is alien to him and he states so truthfully: he does not feel guilt, only "ennui". What made him act out his crime? "The sun". Mersault is not an insensitive person, however, he does not have the "psyche of a criminal" as the prosecutor argues forcefully. Any emotions are indirectly expressed through a related physical activity: attraction to his girlfriend, assistance to his "buddy", his work ethics, caring for his neighbour. He is most explicit when describing his emotions when outside: walking along the beach with the desert sun burning his face, the hot sand under his bare feet, or when dipping into the refreshing ocean waves. The intensity of light of the desert sun is also playing games with his mind: distorting reality and blurring his vision. In his prison cell he seeks the sun... Meursault describes such sensations on that fateful day on the beach: "Sweat runs down my eyebrows and further down into the eyelids[...] My eyes were blinded behind a curtain of tears and salt [...]Everything starts to flicker..." Anybody who has enjoyed traveling in a desert, exposed to the elements will relate, at a minimum, to these sensations.

It may be stating the obvious that the way we experience and find expression for our emotions, how we define relationships or life's purpose are deeply personal. Some readers will relate to Meursault, others will find him as "strange" as his judge and jury did. Whatever tendency we lean towards, THE STRANGER is worth a thorough reflection and re-assessment. [Friederike Knabe]

*) Having read the novel in French, all quotes are my translation.
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on June 28, 2003
L'histoire est plutôt bien, pas trop ennuyante. Elle est très courte. On découvre l'absurdité de la vie à travers le personnage de Meursault. Le livre est beaucoup mieux que la peste.
C'est écrit simplement car Camus fait comme si c'était Meursault qui nous racontait l'histoire et celui-ci est plutôt simple.
Je conseille de le lire en français c'est mieux.
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on June 29, 2000
This book was great. I had to read it for a French class and was warned that it was quite depressing. I found it depressing in some areas, but Camus has a style of writing that made me want to keep going. Meursault is not the typical hero of a book because of his seeming lack of compassion, but because of that he made the book interesting. This book, as well as La Peste, made me want to read more of Camus' works
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on August 7, 2010
I read this masterpiece in French, but would not insult the crystalline clarity of Camus' prose by attempting a review in the same tongue. Indeed, a review of such a classic is pointless; all that is possible is a personal reaction.

I found myself held in horrified fascination as Meursault sleepwalks through the burial of his mother, his job in Algiers, his girlfriend's embraces, and his neighbor's scheme to teach his own mistress a lesson, all under the heat of the desert sun. Even had I not known in advance, I could feel that something bad was about to happen, and it was almost a relief when it did. At least then there would be time to seek some meaning in such a barren life.

The meaning comes in the penultimate paragraph when Meursault rails at the priest who visits him in his condemned cell. In a long diatribe, filled with a passion that had been missing in the book so far, the young man proclaims that, compared to the uncertainties of religion, he at least has lived in the surety that the life he has lived from moment to moment has been his and his alone, and that the one validating certainty is the death that comes to us all. Dark though it may be, this comes across as a triumphant cry of self-possession. Camus has written that Meursault is the man who can only tell the truth, who has never mastered the little lies that the rest of us use daily to simplify our social lives. Unwilling to play the game, he remains the outsider, the Stranger. The last word in the book is "haine" -- the hatred he expects from those come to watch his execution; Meursault wears it as a medal of honor.

All the way through my reading, I felt my intellectual responses kicking in. The simple style of short declarative sentences, which I gather Camus based on American writers like Hemingway, also seemed to presage the obsessive detail of the nouveau roman. The succession of almost-random events looks forward to the theatre of the absurd. The many similarities to JMG Le Clézio's first novel, LE PROCÈS VERBAL, only underlined the fact that while the later author is full of emotion, Camus describes even love-making in a manner bleached of all emotive content.

But all this was a smokescreen to hide my sense of being there with Meursault and hating being there. I somehow missed reading Camus when my college friends were doing so in the late 1950s, so I am astonished to see how totally he captures the spirit of that time that was not even his own. Or perhaps it is a young man's thing, this living for the moment, making choices on a whim, and above all this inability to feel emotion. At any rate, I was there then, and Camus makes me live it all again. At the time, however, it was not self-possession but anomie. It sent me to mental hospital, but also made possible a long search for deeper meaning in how I lived. Camus' terrible masterpiece takes me right back, but at least now I can watch with the knowledge that death is NOT all there is to life.
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on January 1, 2003
First of all,can I tell you this is my all-time favourite novel. Camus died ten years before I was born but reads a hundred years more modern than many writers I've read who were born decades later.
The Mersault of this novel is not the ponderous but very clever eejit of the earlier version, A Happy Death. Mersault this time is a clipped, direct, yin-yang mofo who knows the difference between what sucks and what rocks, until of course that fateful hot-knife escapade on the beachIf you want to read this in French, do so even if you think your comprehension level is less than expert. It's poetry. It will get you.
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on April 30, 2002
I'm not quite to the end of the book yet, but so far I love it. It's the only book I've been required to read for class that I actually enjoy reading.
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on July 2, 1998
I read this book in High School, in my French AP class. Our class was so enthralled by it that we decided to act it out. The fact that Camus could see into the hypocrisy of his generation...a hypocrisy that still surrounds touches. The symbolism that is in every page...every situation. If only Camus could see that this book has even inspired a very popular POP SONG...KILLING AN ARAB by THE CURE.
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on May 11, 2005
Quel roman savoureux. Du passé simple, j'en prendrais volontier. Un incontournable.
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on May 23, 2000
The Stranger follows the "adventures" of Meaursault, a French-Algerian, as he tries to make his way through the Universe in a life he neither asked for, nor understands, but is doing his best to navigate. The action is muted and secondary to the motivations and thoughts of Meaursault and the revealing of Camus' philosophy.
If you haven't read anything else by Camus, you probably had to read The Stranger in high school. But now may be a good time to give it another chance. The novel falls into three parts, each marked by a death. Straightforward and simple, the novel presents its plot clearly enough, a good foil for the philosophy of the author. Camus said of this book that it portrayed "the nakedness of man when faced with the absurd" and every life is absurd. Meaursault is not what you would expect as the hero of a novel; he is just an everyday guy, perfect for the role, really, since his job is to reveal the author's version of the truths that are universal, not applicable only to a few. As an atheist, he has no preconceptions about his life or the direction it should take and is at the "mercy" of the world.
An Existentialist, Camus is not always a bundle of laughs to read, but always has interesting commentary to make about the world and the importance of accepting who you are and learning to deal with your true strengths and weaknesses. It isn't saying you should be this or that, but saying that you should just be. Don't concentrate on becoming some other person's version of success, because, after all, we're all just going to end up dead anyway. A kind of Existentialist carpe diem message for anyone who has ever felt like a stranger, and that's probably everyone. As Meaursault himself would say, "the truth shall set you free." It is a difficult read in some ways, but it will leave you changed.
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on April 25, 1999
If only the rest of us could attain Camus' simplicity of words concerning the complexities of life much valuable time would be saved. Course we might also be left analysing our every thought to death.
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