Wednesday, August 16, 2006

book of books - the outsider



Anyone who is a Cure fan will know the lines to Killing an Arab: “standing on a beach with a gun in my hand/staring at the sea staring at the sand/I’m alive I’m dead/I’m a stranger killing an Arab.” As a bit of a Cure follower in earlier years (although like Graham Greene’s catholism it never really leaves you) I used to sing along to the band’s Albert Camus inspired signature tune.

But trying to wrap up an existential book in a catchy chorus is of course never going to be as satisfying as reading The Outsider in full.

Plot summary
The short novel details the story of Meursault, a young man that no matter how awkward it is cannot conform to a social norm. So he attends his dead mother and neither expresses much emotion or shows any awkwardness as he smokes near the body and shows his boredom to the old people’s warden. He then answers his girlfriend’s requests of marriage with a non-committed reply about not really loving her or anyone. The pivot of the book is when he decides to go and kill an Arab and then shows no remorse in the trial because of his refusal to be hypocritical. He ends in prison with the reader left pondering on Meursault’s approach to life.

Is it well written?
It reads like a mental diary of the main character Meursault and the location and story is sketched around him in quite light lines so sometimes you wish there was more about why and how he acts like he does from the position of others. There are only hints of how people react to him in the court and his girlfriend but a third-party point of view might have made his existentialist behaviour even more pronounced

Is it worth reading?
It is an easy read in terms of quantity of pages but a hard one to digest because in all likelihood it will make you feel uncomfortable and even frustrated with Meursault. It is one of those books that has to be chosen carefully depending on your mood because it has the ability to influence how you are feeling. I have found other French literature has that effect because of its philosophical content. If you are not prepared to engage with an anti-hero then wait until the moment is right for this novel.

Leads to
This week is getting quite a Camus flavour so it is going to lead to more Camus but in terms of a book having the ability to sow the seeds of an uncomfortable mood in your head the next step, and one I will be taking next week, is to head for Nausea by Jean-Paul Satre.

Version read – Penguin twentieth century classics

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