The Outsider – Albert Camus – Book Review

The Outsider by Albert Camus, copyright 1942.

Translated from French by: Stuart Gilbert

Publisher: Penguin Group

Pages: 120

Source: Personal Collection – Purchased Used

Reason for Reading: Reputation of Author

I picked up The Outsider because I’m trying to work my way through the Nobel laureates and Camus won the prestigious award in 1957. After purchasing the book, it was recommended to me by a co-worker…one who’s literary recommendations I will no longer be taking!

“Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday. I can’t be sure. The telegram from the Home says: Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday.” The Outsider, page 13.

Never has one man cared so little about so much. Meursault, a colonial Algerian, is off to his mother’s funeral, to grieve, or perhaps not. Yes, he will sit by her coffin and hold vigil, but he will not cry as he smokes his cigarettes, drinks his coffee and nods off till morning. Several days after the funeral, Meursault’s apathy will get him into trouble when it leads him to get wrapped up in a dispute involving his neighbour. When his involvement lands him in court, on capital charges, the lacklustre Algerian finds himself wondering if he is on trial for the matter at hand, or for the death of his mother.

It sounds intriguing I know…but please…PLEASE, don’t read this book. This is without a doubt, the single worst novel/novella I have ever finished. It is supposed to be one of the most famous pieces of French writing; I certainly hope all French writing isn’t this awful.

Throughout the story, Meursault is calm and emotionless. I was convinced that he was a sociopath until, finally, at the end of the story, he finally breaks down. Until that point, all of his responses to stimuli are physiological. He has no emotional responses to anything and doesn’t even speak of ever having had any feelings about anything.

“To indicate, presumably, that the interview was over, the magistrate stood up. In the same weary tone he asked me a last question: Did I regret what I had done? After thinking a bit, I said that what I felt was less regret than a kind of vexation – I couldn’t find a better word for it. But he didn’t seem to understand.” The Outsider, page 74.

I think the calmness of Meursault and the lack of emotional response is supposed to provide some form of comic relief, and, to the author’s credit, there were a couple of instances in which I saw the humor, though I never found them funny enough to actually laugh. It is too difficult to make one’s way through a literary work without some means of investing emotionally in the characters. I cared as little for Meursault when the story finished as when it began.

I wish I could find something positive to say about this one, but I can’t. It’s put me off Alberta Camus for sure!

THE RATING: Ain’t Worth Mutton

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About Robbie

Hi there, my name is Robbie Burns (no,really, that’s my name…hold the haggis jokes please) and I would like to welcome you to the Pink Sheep Cafe. I started this blog as a means of discussing books and all things literary in light of my perpetual isolation. At the time I began writing, I was living in Split, Croatia. There wasn’t much here in the way of English book clubs and I couldn’t work, so I badly needed something to help me bide my time. My partner and I have since left Croatia and returned to Canada to live in Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. When we first moved back here, my blog writing sort of fell by the wayside, but now I seem to be back on track. I try to read and review a little bit of everything here; I think everyone can find something to their liking here. I find myself tending more towards more literary reads these days, but I also enjoy a lot of YA and children’s fiction. One of my ongoing goals is to work my way through all of the Nobel Laureates. My two most favorite authors are Timothy Findley and Halldor Laxness.
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5 Responses to The Outsider – Albert Camus – Book Review

  1. winstonsdad says:

    oh you picked a hard one for your first Camus I woluld said the plague or fall ,he is a marmite writer thou ,all the best stu

  2. winstonsdad says:

    marmite is english spread like vegmite ,you either love it or hate it hence marmite writer for camus you either love him or hate him ,all the best stu

  3. THANK YOU for disliking this book. I had to read it at school (and that’s not an automatic curse – I loved other “enforced” literature e.g. Pride & Prejudice, A Doll’s House, Siddhartha) and LOATHED it. I found Meursault unsympathetic, self-obsessed, unpleasant and quite frankly, dull.

  4. Although it has been quite some time since I read ‘The Outsider’, the echo of its impact still reverberates through my mind. The main character, who, by not being too sad at his mother’s funeral, by not being too ashamed of the accidental murder, and by not conforming to expectations of the society defies it in ways that we didn’t even know it could/should be defied. And the speech at the end, as you mentioned, is one of the most remarkable pieces of prose I’ve ever read. Unforgettable book.
    If not done so already, I urge you read ‘The Fall’, ‘Plague,’ and ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ by him too.

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