Book Reviews, The Noble Nobel Project
Comments 8

There isn’t always a reason behind the things that we do – The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger by Albert Camus

I seriously don’t know what to say about this book, so this is going to be one of those nonreviews where I babble incoherent stuff that appear to be sensible, solid stuff when, in fact, it lacks glue to hold everything together. I am even reluctant to write this because I fear of blaspheming Camus, a writer that I am not superbly fond of but whom I deeply respect.

So why this disclaimer? Oh, it must be my hormones. When I say hormones, it’s my mood. The Stranger is the story of a man tried in court for shooting another man. Why he killed the man and the other whys are the core of the novel. It’s really short. One can actually finish this in one sitting, but I suggest reading it slowly and thinking of the philosophical undertones that it has.

My edition, really, is The Outsider. So why did I refer to it as The Stranger? It’s the same. It’s a different translation. But does it matter if I refer to it as the latter? Am I not allowed to do that?

And this time, without sitting up, the Arab drew his knife and held it out towards me in the sun. The light leapt up off the steel and it was like a long, flashing sword lunging at my forehead. At the same time all the sweat that had gathered in my eyebrows suddenly ran down over my eyelids, covering them with a dense layer of warm moisture. My eyes were blinded by this veil of salty tears. All I could feel were the cymbals the sun was clashing against my forehead and, indistinctly, the dazzling spear still leaping up off the knife in front of me. It was like a red-hot blade gnawing at my eyelashes and gouging out my stinging eyes. That was when everything shook. The sea swept ashore a great breath of fire. The sky seemed to be splitting from end to end and raining down sheets of flame. My whole being went tense and I tightened my grip on the gun. The trigger gave, I felt the underside of the polished butt and it was there, in that sharp but deafening noise that it all started. I shook off the sweat and the sun. I realized that I’d destroyed the balance of the day and the perfect silence of this beach where I’d been happy. And I fired four more times at a lifeless body and the bullets sank in without leaving a mark. And it was like giving four sharp knocks at the door of unhappiness.

Why he killed the man is just as strange as the title: he doesn’t know. True enough, we tend to do things without even knowing why. Why did I read this? Why am I writing about this? Why am in a bad mood? Why can’t I remember the man’s name? Does there always have to be a reason behind things?

But murder is different. This is not a trifle that can be easily overlooked. There has to be something behind the act. And how would you react if the murderer merely says this: I don’t know, it must be the weather.

A most irrational reasoning. Is there logic to that? Well, come to think of it, hot weather can be exasperating. It can make your blood simmer. It can fry your brains. It can make your mouth sputter with expletives your grandmother would not approve. But can it make you shoot another person?

I think the point of the book is that irrationality is the most rational thing in the universe. A disconcerting proposition particularly because we humans are supposed to be the most rational beings on earth. We use the power of reasoning to weigh our decisions. But what then? Why go through the side-splitting headaches of analyzing situations when the things that we do will not matter in the end?

Can we then just forget about everything? Like can we forget when our mothers died? I don’t know if I can, because my mother is still alive, but I still know when my two grandmoms died. September 9, 2000 for maternal grams and February 19, 2004 for paternal grams. Why am I asking this? This is not as irrelevant as you think. The opening lines of this book are about the man saying that his mother died, but he’s not sure when. He goes to her funeral at the home for the aged, but he doesn’t feel anything. He doesn’t grieve. Why would he grieve if he doesn’t feel anything? Strange, yes, but I quite agree. However, society dictates that you should grieve when your parents die. If not, the oldies, or rather the remnants of the society, will excoriate you for being improper, for being disrespectful, even for being immoral.

It’s a problem, yes, so it takes considerable guts for the man to display this … strangeness. He thinks people are weird, and people think he is weird. He insists that all this is meaningless, and people refuse to think of it that way. I somehow feel that he is incapable of happiness, but can we blame him?

3 star - liked itWe try so hard at achieving the little comforts that we may pick from this life that is a continuum of suffering and pain. And after that what? We die. It’s one of the most natural occurrences on earth, and yet we fear it so much. Its inevitability makes us grind ourselves to near death that we tend to forget to ask whether living matters at all or not. We are going to die anyway, right? We will be sooner or later forgotten, right? The people with whom we share our lives are going through more or less the same route, right?

If you tell these things to a random stranger on the street, it’s most likely that you will receive faces aghast with shock as reply, if not a bash in your teeth for thinking and acting like a deranged person. It is a strange way of thinking, and admit it, most people do not think that way. I do not think exactly that way, but sometimes, during my sulky moments, I do.

And this out of the ordinary thinking throws the person, who is in this book the man who senselessly shot another man, off the dome of society. He is, hence, a stranger.



  1. Jeanne Voelker says

    Reading l’Étrangère is, in itself, enough to make the reader sulky and surly. The protagonist is bereft of his mother but hasn’t grieved. He’s suffering from overexposure to the hot sun to the point where he has a splitting headache and he feels it’s making him crazy. He doesn’t like people he thinks of as “Arabs”. Not the cheeriest book is it?


  2. theveryhungrybookworm says

    I also read the book in its original French in a college course. I have to admit that when I read it, I had no idea what was going on. I thought that it was because of my grasp on the language, but after hearing your review, it really might have been the text. It just made me confused and angry and, frankly, hot sun is not a good excuse to kill someone. Just putting that out there!


    • Wow, it must be different reading this in French. The original flavor of the novel could either be lost or enhanced once it is translated. But yes, this can be reread easily. I was tempted to while hunting for a quotation.


  3. Kristel says

    I haven’t read The Stranger yet but I did read his other “important” novel The Plague. I really enjoyed that one, and from how you described The Stranger, it’s a more hopeful representation of Camus existential philosophy.


    • This is a very “discussable” book. I just couldn’t bring myself to really love it because, uhm, it’s too short? I hardly fall in love with short books. :(


  4. If you are interested in Camus’ thought process behind L’Étranger, you should read his Notebooks. They help shed some light upon what was going through his mind as he wrote this book. Regardless of the plethora of interpretations that we’ve developed of L’Étranger over time, there is no doubt that this is an incredible novel… It changed my life.

    Thank you for writing this!


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