The Outsider is the story of a man named Meursault. At the beginning of the novel, he attends the funeral of his mother. At the funeral, he showcases his apparent lack of emotions and his brutal honesty to everyone who meets him. When he comes home the next day, he decides to go have a swim and ends up meeting a woman who used to work with him named Marie. They end up going for a date to a comedy movie and making love. He also fosters a friendship with a less-than-reputable man named Raymond. Eventually, via several events instigated by Raymond, Meursault ends up in an altercation with an Arab man, which lands him in prison. This leads to trials and incarceration which cause him to reflect on his life and the justice system.
The novel takes place during the 1920’s in Algiers, when Algeria was still a French Colony. However, the particulars of the setting aren’t all that important, because the story reaches beyond mere location. The best parts of The Outsider are when it is using its story to pontificate on the structure of society. Meursault is honest, and is thus subjected to society’s full wrath. In the The Outsider’s world, you must lie to be human and to be accepted. The broad nature of this theme makes its message applicable to almost any place and time.
In The Outsider, Camus utilizes the first person in narrative form in order to give the reader unfettered access to Meursault’s view of the world. He also is very minimalist, writing almost exclusively in short, direct sentences. While this may not be the most engaging style of writing ever employed, it communicates the mood of the novel effectively.
I started The Outsider with what can only be called “a heavy heart”. As a rule, I try to avoid books that seem to be “pretentious” or “boring” or “old”. Upon reading the first couple of pages of the book, I was delighted to find that the prose wasn’t too dense and the concept was fairly fresh. It seems that most books are designed to make you sympathize with the main character, so it was interesting to be introduced to a main character who was so different from anyone else. However, this novel isn’t free from pitfalls. You won’t read it for the plot, because it’s not that engaging. You won’t read it for the characters, because, seen through the eyes of Meursault, they aren’t that nuanced or intriguing. You won’t read for the beautiful writing, because it’s not that beautiful. What you will read it for is the social commentary. What this book says about society as a whole is interesting and it will make you think about the implications of this tale long after it has been told. So, read this book, if only to say you have.
Book Reviewed by Michael Siemens
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