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The Stranger (L’Étranger)

By Albert Camus
Review by Shilpi (History & French)

Albert Camus’ L’Étranger or The Stranger was actually the first novel I read cover to cover in French. It’s a brilliant book to start with if you are new to reading in French because it is shorter and more accessible than a lot of the other well-known French novels. Given how famous it is both in and out of France, English translations are very easy to come by too.

The Stranger is centred around the character of Meursault, a man who seems apathetic to all that goes on around him. This is made clear from the infamous opening lines of the book: “Aujourd’hui Maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas” / “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.” As the novel progresses, Camus gives us a deep insight into Meursault’s mind, and we see that he truly is a stranger in society — he contradicts societal norms by not crying at his mother’s funeral, his actions and the thoughts behind them are disorderly and irrational. I don’t want to give away the entire plot because it is an integral part of the beauty of this novel; however, I can say that it concludes with a provocative message on the meaningless of human life. This sounds bleak, but I promise in the context of the novel it is actually a liberating view and an excellent insight into Camus’ philosophical beliefs of absurdism and existentialism.

One of the other reasons I adore this book is the historical insights. The Stranger is set in 1940s Algiers in French Algeria and was published in 1942, and Camus reflects the very real hierarchies and tensions between the Europeans (like Meursault) and the Arabs in the novel. Camus shows us how the colonial system treated the majority Arab population as inferior (he does not name any of the Arab characters) and was not concerned with giving them justice. This historical aspect of the novel is less discussed than the philosophical aspect (which admittedly is Camus’s main focus) but is still something I found very intriguing.

The Stranger fits in with a range of subjects and disciplines — languages, literature, philosophy, and history, to name a few ­— and I think is a particularly helpful book if you want to explore how different subjects can intersect.

The Stranger (L’Étranger) by Albert Camus
ISBN-13 : 979-8373626514

Try checking the availability of this book at your school or local library or explore second hand bookshops and websites. You may also wish to purchase from either Amazon or Blackwell’s.

Read more reviews on our Reading Bank.

Published: 6 February 2024

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