Monday, 19 December 2016

The Outsider by Albert Camus

Hello all,

Don't be fooled in thinking that because I'm reading other books I've gotten over A Little Life. I haven't - it's still there. I went into a book shop today and couldn't even look at it. That book has seriously damaged my feelings. I'm preparing myself for my Christmas reads now though, which means finishing off a few library books I've got and taking a short break from my existentialist education. I'll be a home for three weeks and didn't really know how many to bring, so I just brought loads. There's a mix between YA fiction, classics, and thrillers that I think will keep me thoroughly entertained.

This week though, I read some Camus - namely The Outsider and The Myth of Sisyphus. I've not read any of his works before and so it was nice to discover a new author. I guess I was secretly hoping that I'd like him because he's such an iconic twentieth-century figure. I did though, truly. Today I saw a copy of The Plague and had to physically restrain myself from buying it. But I'll tell you what I thought about The Outsider first.

People have described this novel as both an exploration of the absurd, and an existentialist piece. Whilst Camus engages with the former, he rejects the latter. Existentialist critics still love writing about this book though, including Sartre, which is why it's become so associated with the school of thought. This novel follows a man who ultimately chooses to rebel - he hears that his mother dies yet shows no emotion, and then days later commits an act on murder for seemingly no reason. There even seems to be a rebellion in the form, as the book is around 100 pages and there is no real resolution or solidity in its genre.

The themes of absurdity were fascinating in this book. There were certain phrases which I couldn't skip over and I was forced to read again - questions like "Really now, I ask you, is this man on trial for having buried his mother or for having killed a man?" which draw attention to the strange way in which one decision that the narrator makes in his life turns out to directly influence the other. There is also a strangeness with the way he conversed with others, and Camus was able to show this through the narration. Speech is filtered through Meursault which is why it is often dry and to the point. He plays no attention to tone and hidden meaning, preferring to distance himself both physically and through the language.

This 'strangeness' isn't what names Meursault a stranger though. The title has been translated to both 'outsider' and 'stranger' suggesting that the main character is someone who doesn't truly fit in with the masses. Yet I couldn't help wondering if this was always a conscious decision, and then let me to question whether Meursault really wanted to commit an act of murder on the beach. Honestly, I think the only thing Meursault really wants to do is nothing, and in doing this he succeeds in his detachment from those around him and therefore from the anxiety of being part of a collective.

Although at first glance, this book feels very short and simplistic there is so much more to it than you realise. It is only when I read a number of critical articles on the story that I understood the types of things Camus was trying to do with this novel, and if you feel like you've missed something when reading this then I encourage you to do reading on it too. It is a very carefully constructed piece of writing; even the length of the text is important. There is so much that happens to Meursault in this short period of time, yet in terms of emotional growth there is nothing.

The only reason I gave this three stars was because I definitely think it's a text which needs to be studied before one can really get anything out of it. If I hadn't understood the notion of absurdity inside the school of existentialism then I don't think I'd have liked this. I also didn't find it particularly gripping - not the point of the novel, I know - but there was nothing huge and outstanding about this text which made me want to completely rave about it. I'd definitely recommend it for people who believe they would be interested though, as long as you are willing to put in all the extra work.

Currently, I'm reading The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, which will be the last existentialism orientated book I read for the rest of this year until I begin reading a book for the Existential Book Club (feel free to join!). I'm almost half way through and don't know if it's for me, so might have to put it down for a while. I've also brought some Dickens and thrillers with me to read over Christmas, because how can you feel festive without books like that?

I hope everyone's having a nice December so far and is getting some cosy reading done. Let me know what you guys are flicking through and if there's anything you've discovered that might be up my street.

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