Can a book be sad and entertaining at the same time? With his book, The Outsider, Albert Camus provides a masterpiece that just about achieves both. Irresistibly nostalgic, interesting and deeply moving, The Outsider by Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus is one of the best works of fiction to ever to come out of Algeria and the continent of Africa. It was originally written in French (L’Etranger), but later translated into English. In some English translations, it is titled The Stranger
As you read the book, it can be hard to sympathize with Meursault, the main character, whose behaviour is strange right from the opening lines of the book.
First, he is not sure when his mother died: “Mother died today yesterday. It must have been today. No, I don’t know.” He is apparently unmoved by his mother’s death, as he only requests two days off to mourn her death. He declines to watch her mother’s body but rather takes white coffee and smokes a cigar while observing other old women at the elderly women’s home mourn his mother’s death. This is absurd and against the acceptable norms in this society.
This and many other events paint Meursault as a strange character (he is termed as an existentialist), whose behaviour is worth as serious a punishment as there can ever be. Camus uses Meursault’s struggle to fit into his society’s conventionally acceptable norms to explore the important philosophical aspect of existentialism.
A series of events, from the mother’s death, to making love to Marie, his girlfriend hardly two days after his mother is buried, the killing of the Arab, and partly his defence at the court, claiming that he killed the Arab because of the environment, are sure enough to inspire the judge to hand him a death sentence by decapitation. Even more strange, Meursault is unmoved by the decision to decapitate him. He merely mulls over how the events at the guillotine will unfold.
Throughout the book, Meursault shows no emotions. He evokes no sympathy, but seems content to behave in a way that will fulfil his own fate, even if his actions or behaviour go against the grain of societal thinking and put him in the risk of being cast out of his society.
The Outsider is a masterpiece, and despite the passage of time, it remains as fresh as when it was published about six decades ago (1942). As sad as it gets a times, readers will enjoy reading the relatively small book.