Book Review: The Stranger

Camus the Stranger Black and White Cover

The Stranger opens and closes with death.

I’ve read it four times now. I tend to turn to it when I am searching for some sort of direction, advice, or illumination in life. It never provides these things, of course. It is not that sort of book. None of the best ones are.

A pioneering work of French Existentialism, The Stranger is a short novel (124 pages) by Albert Camus. It tells the story of Mersault, a man who murders a stranger on a sunny Algerian beach. Mersault has no particular reason for doing this. It is an absurd act, and the book uses the murder as a prism to focus on the absurdity of human experience and life at large.

Such a theme can be read in a large number of ways, depending on how one currently sees life. The Stranger can be a depressing book, or it can be an uplifting one. Mersault can be a good person, a bad person, or anywhere in between. His plight can be completely relatable or utterly alien.

This, I think, is a large part of why I keep coming back to this book. Every read-through, I find the experience different.

Originally written in French, and now available in translation in almost any language you can imagine, The Stranger is defined by its matter-of-fact prose. For a book which deals with such large philosophies as morality and meaning, it spends very little time actually talking about these topics. It avoids becoming a ponderous philosophical tome, and leaves the thinking to the reader—another reason this book is worth a read.

No one likes being told what to think; this is why a smart piece of literature leaves us with the questions but not the answers.

The Stranger provides us with plenty of questions.

This is exactly why I turn to it whenever I’m seeking answers.

***

If you’d like to read The Stranger, you can buy it in on Amazon.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Stranger

  1. It looks like another read-through of ‘The Stranger’ is in order for me. Maybe this time I’ll see it differently. I bought my copy of ‘The Stranger’ at the same time I purchased ‘Catcher in the Rye’. I’m not sure if there’s anything to this, or if it’s just a coincidence. I’m not sure what Camus would think about such an idea, but I suppose, for him, being an existentialist, it wouldn’t matter either way. Thanks for the review!

    • Both books address feelings of alienation from society and the search for meaning– although in very different ways! I think they pair well together. Holden probably appeals more to the younger reader, while Mersault’s matter-of-fact manner connects more with those who have seen enough to develop more perspective on the absurdity of the workd

      • They definitely do address similar facets of life, though, as you said, in much different ways. The endings of each, as such, are striking. Holden is hopefully getting the help he needs, while Mersault is executed. I can certainly say that each of these is worth a read every few years.

  2. Great post about an immortal book. To me, it is the murder – the significance of mortality – that clarifies his absurdist understanding of life; so I see it, the murder, as being quite opposite of an absurdist act…

  3. Even though Camus depressed me so much that I burned the book (we had to read it in high school, along with Sartre), I really like your description of it. You sum it up so well. It (the book) definitely brings out something deep inside the individual, and you never know what it will be–rather like taking LSD!

    I found that I gravitated more to the positive messages in novels like “Steppenwolf”–Mozart tells the main character that he must learn to laugh at himself!–or Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”. I would rather be sucked into the Chronosynclastic infundibulum like Billy Pilgrim than thrash around with the Existentialists’ dark mazes and doubt!

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