I thought I’d kick things off with something light and uplifting, so I picked up a copy of Albert Camus’ The Stranger.  Okay, maybe not.  In reality, I’ve wanted to read the book for a while, and at a slender 117 pp., I figured it would be a quick read and give me some confidence as I get back on the reading wagon.

Quick it is, but light it ain’t, to say the least.  For those of you who don’t know the story, here is the briefest of outlines.  The first part of the book begins with the stark phrase “Maman died today.”  The narrator, Meursault, has just received a telegram informing him of his mother’s death, and he travels from his home in Algiers to Marengo for her funeral.  After going through the motions of the vigil and burial showing no emotion, he returns to his home and resumes his life as if nothing had happened.  He rekindles a relationship with an old flame, returns to work, chats occasionally (and often reluctantly) with his neighbors, and ends up the following Sunday on a beach excursion with his girlfriend, his neighbor/”pal” Raymond, and some friends of Raymond.  Through a series of events related to what had gone on the previous week, Part One ends with Meursault shooting an Arab man on the beach for no apparent reason.  Part Two chronicles the investigation and trial of Meursault.  Though still narrated from Meursault’s perspective, the second part focuses on the attempts of others – his lawyer, the magistrate, a prison chaplain – to make sense of his actions.  To the end Meursault confounds attempts to explain his deeds, or the world at large.  As he awaits his execution, he embraces the meaningless of the world and opens himself “to the gentle indifference of the world.”

True to my expectations, The Stranger was a quick read, and yet deceptively quick.  I think I would have to reread it a couple of more times to really “get” it.  The nature of this blog won’t allow for that, though, so here are some very brief reactions on my first reading.  Though the topic and underlying philosophy of the book are a bit depressing, I actually enjoyed reading it.  Camus’ style, terse and to the point, moves the reader along quickly and is well suited to the themes of the novel.  Meursault is a complex and bedeviling character.  On the one hand, he seems totally emotionless: he doesn’t shed a single tear over his mother’s death, nor does he want to see her one last time before her burial; when his girlfriend Marie asks if he loves her, he says it wouldn’t mean anything, but probably not; and most disturbing (to me, if not to the other characters in the novel), he feels absolutely no remorse for the murder he committed.  The first words that came to mind as I read the story were apathy and ennui.  On the other hand, Meursault is not a robot: the story ends with him at last finding happiness in the meaninglessness of life.  I suppose at root he is a non-conformist who finds the structures of meaning society clings to absurd, but that could just be my superficial reading (literature never was my strong suit).

On the whole, I’m glad I read The Stranger, but I wouldn’t want to make it (or Camus) a regular part of my reading diet.

One down, (at least) fifty-one to go.