The Outsider by Albert Camus – An 'I’ve Always Wanted to Read That' Review

(first published 1942)
Penguin Classics, 9780141182506 (Aus, US)
Mr. Meursault lives out his life fulfilling ‘natural’ physical and emotional urges. He is in a comfortable position at work and feels no need to advance himself. He has a girlfriend who he may marry, but is honestly not sure whether he loves her. He has buried his mother without emotion, seeing her death as part of the natural cycle of things. He befriends his neighbour, indifferent to his perceivably violent and immoral activities.

On a weekend away with the neighbour small annoyances and a blindingly hot sun lead Mr. Meursault to kill a man. He never quite knows why he has done it. He explains to his lawyer that by nature his physical needs often distort his feelings. He accepts his fate of incarceration and the trial, understanding that this is the way society has to deal with him. In his cell, small pleasures such as seeing what tie the lawyer will be wearing, an old scrap of newspaper, and watching the sky change colour keep him from despair.

Mr. Meursault leads his life refusing to lie, to himself and to everybody else. Authority figures in the novel, particularly religious ones, are insulted, stressed and baffled by his attitude. Camus says in the afterword:

‘Meursault is not a reject, but a poor and naked man, in love with a sun that leaves no shadows. Far from lacking all sensibility, he is driven by a tenacious and therefore profound passion, the passion for an absolute and for truth. The truth is yet a negative one, a truth born of living and feeling, but without which no triumph over the self or over the world will ever be possible’.

Camus believed that happiness was only possible through the truth, and acceptance of the absurd.

As a novel The Outsider is straightforward, with plain, clean prose. It is somewhat similar to reading Kafka, attempting to extrapolate the philosophical morsels from the narrator’s observations, speech and opinions – an absorbing and stimulating task. I would suggest having a look at The Myth of Sisyphus before reading The Outsider, or at least reading some background on Camus, his vision of the absurd, and existential philosophy.

Here are some samples of Albert Camus’ wisdom:

‘Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous amounts of energy merely to be normal.’
‘The need to be right is the sign of a vulgar mind.’
‘The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.’

‘The society based on production is only productive, not creative.’

‘Those who lack the courage will always find a philosophy to justify it.’

‘Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.’

3 thoughts on “The Outsider by Albert Camus – An 'I’ve Always Wanted to Read That' Review

  1. I do love the concept of existentialism. But I do side more with Camus’s philosophy on the concept. Still trying to work it out though… thinking I live life as somewhat of a confused epicure atm.Very good review. I will be sure to read this book.

  2. A formative experience it was, reading it as I did at 20 – it remains as one of my favorite books. Good, brief reviews. The magazine is out in a months, BTW.

  3. A facinating, easy to read novel that open your mind to a world of possibilities and confounding conundrums. What if we all looked upon rules as if they were not boundries but merely guidlines to obey or disregard as we wished and how would we react to someone who embraced this ethos. A very interesting novel. classic!

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