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.
This post contains affiliate links which help support this blog.