Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Stranger by Albert Camus

I last read this book in high school, not only to satisfy my curiosity about the author but also because of the song Killing An Arab by The Cure. How cool that the music I was now listening to was also so damned literate! I must be cool, too. That last point is debatable. Should we actually debate it with anyone who knew me then, I'm sure I would be pronounced decidedly not cool. Anyway, let's just say, I was wearing a lot of black turtlenecks (and let's face it, black turtlenecks weren't exactly plentiful in the fine haberdasheries of small town Western Pennsylvania so obviously, I was quite committed), smoking cigarettes, listening to sad music by sad musicians, reading sad books by sad authors and lamenting. Lots of lamenting, as memory serves and the age requires. Plus, the first line of the book,"Mother died today", was right in my sweet spot.

Despite being in my 40's, I remembered the book well and found it much the same--pointlessness celebrated. Sort of like the French New Wave actors like Jean Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon, all black & white and smoking cigarettes and making love and drinking wine and living for today because there is no tomorrow. And the boredom. The main character, Meursault is exquisitely bored with everything--his friends, his job, his mother's recent death and I'm certain that appealed to my teenage self. What's funny is now I find his boredom boring.
The book wasn't boring. It was Meursault's attitude which I found boring in the "goodness, we've done boring to death already, haven't we?"

Oddly, I found The Stranger to be much funnier than I remembered. In fact, I was laughing throughout; laughter I'm unsure was intended by the author and was most certainly lost on me as a sensitive 16 year-old.

However you choose to approach it, The Stranger is a must-read. It was a ground-breaking work from a school of thought that is part of literature and part of history. Camus was a fine writer and was leading a charge that was tremendously influential. If you had to read it for school or haven't read it since your own black turtlenecked days, you are heartily encouraged to pick it up again and spend another jaunty, lighthearted day at the beach with Meursault.

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