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Book Review: “The Outsider” by Albert Camus

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I have written about Albert Camus before, but haven’t written a formal review of one of his books. To usher Camus into the book review series, I am starting with  “The Outsider.”

Some may ask why not begin with “The Plague” or “The Myth of Sisyphus” and my simple answer is perhaps an evasive one: I just finished reading “The Outsider,” and so it is the most recent work in my mind.

I found it particularly enticing, given how readable the book is. My edition was 116 pages and could easily be read in 1-2 days. More than that, the content of the book is also interesting if you are interested in the roots of Camus’ “Absurdist” philosophy. “The Outsider” alongside “The Myth of Sisyphus” represent the philosophical canon of Camus and also provide commentary on the popular intellectual movements in the early-to-mid twentieth century. In other words, these books are the foundation of Camus inserting himself into the history of philosophy (not to discount “The Plague” which is also a fantastic novel and has the utmost importance in his writing portfolio). 

I found Camus’ afterword in the book to be particularly insightful, as he explains how his character Meursault represents the particular state of society. He writes, “A long time ago, I summed up The Outsider in a sentence which I realize is extremely paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral is liable to be condemned to death.’ I simply meant that the hero of the book is condemned because he doesn’t play the game. In this sense, he is an outsider to the society in which he lives, wandering on the fringe, on the outskirts of life, solitary and sensual.”

As you may see with many of my reviews, I try to identify elements of a book that are relevant to our contemporary lives. I don’t necessarily seek to be carried away from life itself, rather, I want a piece of work to illuminate and clarify the reality of my existence and to, therefore, be applicable in some deeper sense. 

Can we all identify with Meursault (the “hero” in the novel) in some way below the surface, especially in our technological age where conformity seems to be the expectation? 

Camus has a unique ability to shock the reader while making it seem relatively normal in his prose. Meursault doesn’t lie about his feelings. He doesn’t translate his disdain or, more importantly, his indifference for anyone or anything simply for effect, as most of us feel compelled to do. This lack of individuality is consistent with Camus’ Absurdist philosophy which suggests that life has no inherent purpose or meaning (put simply). 

On this, Camus continues to write, “you must ask yourself in what way Meursault doesn’t play the game. The answer is simple: he refuses to lie. Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and, in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler. But, contrary to appearances, Meursault doesn’t want to make life simpler.” 

These are powerful words, and I think they express the importance of individuality. Meursault isn’t your model human, but the sentiment of uniqueness and the meaningless of life in a world of people who search endlessly for meaning, is something we should all consider, even if we disagree. 

Camus wants us to understand that people in society are viewed as “rejects” for not maintaining a status-quo notion of “meaning.” 

If you simply read it for enjoyment or for deeper understanding, I highly recommend it.

Rating: 8/10

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