Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review : "The Stranger" by Albert Camus

In speaking with my pastor recently he mentioned that on the Gospel Coalition blog, a segment was starting where Christians were going to read the classics.  It began with this book.

Read the introductory blog HERE and the full synopsis HERE.

Buy the book HERE.

I checked out the audiobook from our library and listened to it on the way to and home from work on my morning/evening commutes.  The audiobook was only roughly 3 1/2 hours and the book itself is only roughly 130 pages.

This fiction novel is a very unusual read.  The main character, Meursault is seemingly void the normative sociological/psychological constructs which formulate and define typical human experience. 

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part introduces us to the main character and shows us the world through his eyes and communicates the basic premises of the worldview espoused by the author, Camus.  Meursault does many normal things, but it's the way or the manner in which he engages in them which is most jarring or disjointed so to speak.  He is detached from the details and experiences with which you would expect a person to be engaged and conversely engaged in details about which most of us normally think very little.

The second part is the trial of Meursault.  Oh yeah, did I forget to mention in the first part he kills a man.  I bring it up in this casual fashion because it is nearly that random and casually committed by Meursault and reported by Camus.  It is almost incidental.  That is the cadence you can expect in reading this book.  The trial does not focus on his having killed the man as that is not a point of contention.  It is conceded.  The trial, rather, focuses on the type of person he was and is now as a result of the murder.  The lack of remorse, the casual manner in which life and death were/are treated, the resistance to meaning, etc... 

It is an interesting book for Christians to read in that it portrays a worldview often not assumed by most Christians.  When we picture a man who attaches no regular or spectacular meaning to anything, we aassume the result would be a hatred of life and likelihood of suicidal tendencies.  However, Meursault (via Camus) bucks this trend by stating the only way to truly enjoy life and live with zeal is when one abandons a search for meaning.  In Camus' worldview, the search for meaning oppresses life and thriving.  It is only when Meursault abandons fully and finally all attempts of hope and meaning that he is truly free to live life.  Most of us assume this final abandonment of hope and meaning would lead to helplessness and suicidal tendencies.  I found this an insightful peek into a humanistic vantage point and a much better apologetic for worldliness than is often espoused or at least assumed by Christians in dealing with their counterparts.

Camus' depiction of Christianity (or at least the messengers thereof introduced in this novel) seem as though they would be quite satisfied to merely hear him utter the words or ascent to their assertions.  This is probably more accurate in its assessment of the contemporary church's approach than we would like to admit.  Saying the sinner's prayer, walking that aisle, standing up at that retreat, etc... are all often seen as a Christian finish line of responsibility of sorts (both for the teller and the hearer).  Discipleship is often disregarded and we settle for winning a mental arm-wrestling contest.  It is sad to see Christianity so caricatured (especially when the bite of realizing it is more accurate than we desire to believe).

I obviously do not prescribe to the worldview portrayed in this novel, but give kudos to Camus for articulating it well and choosing the right medium by which to tell the tale.  Art is such a potent medium and can so deeply affect the observer.   Art can carry a message in a particularly gifted way.  Many Christians have taken advantage of this by putting into story tenets of the Christian faith (a la Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis or Pilgrim's Progress by Bunyan).  It does concern me to ponder on how many have been artistically influenced and persuaded toward life in the essence of Camus' Muersault however.

It is worth the read and I would check out the audiobook if you have the chance.  It is a well done production of the book.  I listened to it twice.  I am now actually reading the copy which arrived from Amazon to put eyes on the words I have now heard twice (plus it gives me the chance to make notes and underline stuff that has stood out to me).

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