A Perfect Book But A Flawed Philosophy

The Stranger, Albert Camus, 1942. Spoiler alert! Not that it matters anyway, but don’t read this review if you don’t already know how it all ends. The Stranger is a perfect book, with a flawed philosophy. Camus is a liar. If he really believed in the absurdness of the universe, then why bother to create this book, and the others?
I chose to read this, not because of the philosophy, but to learn a trick or two from a great writer. I write metaphysical science fiction, and one of my favorite authors is Philip K. Dick. I was not disappointed in Camus’ art. The story is balanced upon the violent act of murder, unpremeditated, and absurd. By then, I had lost all sympathy for a very unsympathetic character, and I began to realize the theme that nothing the character did made any difference to him or to the reader. Thou shalt not kill, God commands. Camus uses the breaking of that commandment to attack religious beliefs, although I did not see that until Mersault was throttling the priest in his prison cell. That resolution comes in the last hours of the antihero’s life, in the final pages of the story. Once it is over, you realize how it balances the scene around Mersault’s mother’s coffin in the quiet room at the Home at the start of the book. I am still studying how all the pieces of the plot fit together in such a very complicated pattern for such a simple story.
But it was the poetic and striking descriptions of the reality through which Mersault wanders, that I liked the best. The cat crossing the deserted city street, the struggle between the old man and his dog, the long lines of cypresses beside the road to the graveyard, taking the streetcar to the harbor for a swim, all of these images stay with me. Even though Camus says, “never in my life had I seen anyone so clearly as I saw these people … and yet I couldn’t hear them, and it was hard to believe they really existed”, his sparingly described supporting characters, Marie, Raymond, Salamano, Mother, and the Arabs, are more believable than Mersault himself.
I should read another of Camus’ books, but I am afraid that it could not possibly be as good as this one!