"I wanted to assure him that I was just like everyone else, exactly like everyone else. But it was all really a bit pointless and I couldn't be bothered."
I picked up The Outsider (aka The Stranger) on a whim one day from the library, mainly because I'd sort of heard about Camus and wanted to check that shit out, and also because they didn't have the book I actually wanted and I didn't want to waste my visit to the library. Also, it was short, so everybody wins.
In spite of my crazy shallow reasons, I ended up really really really enjoying this book, although I'm not sure if enjoying is even the word for it. I should explain- this isn't really the kind of book that I like because it's an amazing story, or because it's incredibly well written or any of the usual reasons I have for liking books. Nope, this is one of those times where I like the book because it's almost a work of Philosophy, only it's Philosophy in the way I wished it was always expressed- with recognisable characters, real life situations, Philosophy-as-life, if you will. If I'd read this before I wrote my dissertation (which was on the advantages of fiction over philosophical works in affecting the way people live their lives, basically), this shit would have been straight in there without question because it's perfect for that.
So the story. It's pretty sparse- Meursalt is an Algerian man whose mother has just died, a fact which he takes on like any other and her funeral is an event where he doesn't act much differently to normal, in spite of everyone else's thought that he should be more outwardly emotional. After her funeral, he returns to everyday life, goes on with it as normal until a series of events lead to him shooting 'an arab' (casual racism really seems to be part of this) wherein he is imprisoned and put on trial, seemingly not only for his actions but for the entire way he chooses to live his life.
That is basically the story in a nutshell- and I don't consider it filled with spoilers because, well, like I said, the story isn't really the point. I don't know if this is the kind of book that other people would have a problem with because Camus should maybe have written an essay containing these ideas instead, but I would much rather read a novel than an essay, so. There are various things Camus brings up about life and ethics and stuff like that, but I think the core of things is this- A lot of the time, people act not in an authentic way, but in a way which they believe is expected of them, and so they sacrifice truth for acceptance. Meursalt isn't like this- he is truly honest about the things he feels, and even if at times that makes him read like a sociopath (who knows, maybe he is), it's difficult not to respect the fact that, say, he doesn't feel like crying at his mother's funeral and so he doesn't.
My extensive research* of Camus since I read this has led me to believe that his main philosophy was one of absurdism, where there is no meaning in the world, and meaning has to be rendered by each individual. In The Outsider, there are characters who have their different ways of adding meaning to situations (through religion, or the law) and Meursalt is the only one who sees through this and almost goes 'there is no meaning to anything because we're all going to die anyway, and besides, everyone knows that life isn't worth living.' It's not the most cheerful philosophy I've ever heard (and someone following its exact line does come off as an almost complete sociopath) but the idea that events and things don't have meanings except for the ones we ascribe to them is a kind of powerful one because it means we can easily change those meanings and kind of create an entirely different world to the one we live in because meaning is all just individual, anyway.
I think the main thing this blog post has taught you is, I wish I could write a whole essay on Camus and Absurdism and oh gawwwd, does this mean I have to do an MA now? I'll stop boring you with it now, but really really this book is so interesting in terms of the things it did to my brain, if not so much in its pure story form. And if you've read it, please, tell me what it did for you? Because I'd be willing to accept that, actually, you found it kind of bullshit because I get that. But this kind of thing is really MY thing. And I really liked it.