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87 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does this book still pack the same ethical and philosophical punch it once did?
One of the very few books that I have ended up reading twice, I first came across The Outsider long ago in 1962 when I was 17 and have just revisited it recently with my reading group, extremely curious to know whether the strong impression it originally made upon me would be rekindled.

In the main, it was not. Coming to this novel in adolescence as one of the...
Published on 23 Feb 2009 by Andy Miller

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars superfluous new translation?
'Readers may wonder why a new translation is necessary', says translator Sandra Smith of this book.

They may indeed. If the original can be allowed to date, why cannot the translation? Where original and translation are of widely different dates - eg Victorian translations of medieval texts - there might be a good case for updating; but surely not for a novel...
Published 21 months ago by gille liath


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87 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does this book still pack the same ethical and philosophical punch it once did?, 23 Feb 2009
By 
Andy Miller (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
One of the very few books that I have ended up reading twice, I first came across The Outsider long ago in 1962 when I was 17 and have just revisited it recently with my reading group, extremely curious to know whether the strong impression it originally made upon me would be rekindled.

In the main, it was not. Coming to this novel in adolescence as one of the first `serious' books I had encountered, and just before the social upheavals of the 1960s began, I found the story and fate of Mersault, who could not or would not lie or express the standard emotions that were expected of him, quite shattering of the world in which I had grown up. Over the intervening decades, I carried a memory of Mersault as a noble hero and of the type of society that I had grown up in as a hypocritical conspiracy against the expression of honesty of feeling. As much or more than Kerouac, Ginsberg and Dylan, it was this book that made me a small town, coffee bar existentialist.

On re-reading at a different age and in a different era, I was struck by a number of impressions. Mersault appears less heroic and emptier of human warmth. He tacitly supports his neighbour, a pimp, in his violence towards his girlfriend and the novel hints more at his racism in the motiveless murder of an Algerian on the beach, around which the novel revolves. His patterns of thinking seem now far less idealistic and almost autistic in character.

However, the sense of place and especially the evocation of the heat, sun, sea, the streets of the town, the courtroom and his prison cell remain convincing and beautifully expressed in clear, clean prose. Mersault's world view and his in-the-moment limited expectations still engaged me as a study of character, but less as an existential pioneer and martyr and more as an unreflective and mildly hedonistic individual.

I would still strongly recommend this book for its historical importance. Written during the second world war when Camus was fighting in the French Resistance, I first read it in early 1960s when publicly departing from the standard loyalties to school, church and state still felt like a dangerous undertaking. The book will now be judged by first-time readers against the mores of present times, times which have been fashioned by myriad forces including, as an early artistic tour de force, this novel.

My grading is an amalgam of my original and my current impressions - I hope this book continues to provoke and be appreciated.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary perfection, 12 Feb 2001
Though I hate being so unoriginal, I can only repeat what everyone else has said here: this book, along with Sartre's 'Nausea' represents a defining moment in Twentieth century culture. The two books - although by different authors - should be read as a pair, though strictly that 'pair' could be extended to take in another half dozen books without much trouble. (e-mail me if you want to know which ones - though my guess is you already know, or have probably already read them.)
I last read this book from cover to cover in my teens (many years ago) but I think of it, and 'Nausea' almost every day.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing translation, 29 Nov 2012
I've read a few versions and translations of the The Outsider (in several languages) and this one is this by far the best. It manages to keep the voice of the character true to his nature and at the same time gives it a modern ring. All his thoughts and reflections were beautifully transcribed into English, which isn't easy with a narrator such as Meursault. This translation made me see something new about the novel and I strongly recommend it. Also, in the preface I read that the translator listened to a original reading by Camus to help her understand the nuances of his tone and meanings, which was pretty interesting!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On trial for the death of his mother, 9 April 2000
By A Customer
Camus explores the values of a nation through the death of an old lady and the subsequent behaviour of her son, both at the funeral and afterwards.
This book leaves one wondering about so many things: How can things that seem normal in one sense be totally objectionable and abnormal when placed in a different context. One can finally both understand Mersault's justification for commiting a crime without apparent reason and yet, at the same time, why the jury find him guilty of not "playing the game" - not being prepared to lie to cover up human weakness.
Fascinating - even better in the original French language. Some of the nuances are lost in the English translation but still ranks as an all time great!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars About this new translation, 4 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Outsider (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Sandra Smith is a fine translator, and it looks as if her version will be as definitive a translation as one can hope for. It is certainly a big improvement on the insipid Laredo version (1982). I still admire the translation published by James Joyce's friend Stuart Gilbert in the mid-1940s, but by today's more exacting standards his is considered too free. Gilbert, though, was fluent in French - he lived in France - and did not make elementary mistakes. Ms Smith does: on p. 64 she confuses the barrel of a revolver (canon) with its butt (crosse) and writes "I could feel the smooth barrel in my hand". She ought to have realised that one does not grip a revolver by the barrel but by the butt. Anyone who has handled a gun knows that the barrel gets hot and should not be touched.
The new version begins "My mother died today". The French is "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte". "Maman" is almost impossible to translate. Sandra Smith says "Mummy" would not do, and I agree, but I think a British-English version could put "Mum" and an American-English "Mom". As another reviewer has pointed out, "Sandra Smith inserts a possessive pronoun: `My mother died today'. By having Meursault lay claim to his dead mother, it is as if he is overwhelmed by grief, rather than callous". And Meursault makes no pretence of grief: that, later, is to be his undoing.
To take the crucial sentence at the end of Part I of the novel: Meursault, ,having killed the Arab, goes on firing four times more at an inert corpse. This is what we then read: "Et c'était comme quatre coups brefs que je frappais sur la porte du malheur". Gilbert's version is magnificent: "And each successive shot was another loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing". It may be rather free, but it certainly packs a punch. "Malheur" means more than just "unhappiness" (Laredo's term) or "misfortune": with its overtones of calamity and disaster, it carries much the same baggage as the German word "Unglück". Sandra Smith translates "And it was as if I had rapped sharply, four times, on the fatal door of destiny". Of the last four words, the only one in the French - apart from "of" - is "door". "Fatal" and "destiny" do not come into it.
It is the only serious reservation I have about this translation. Camus was an atheist, and concepts like "fate" and "destiny" were alien to him. They were of course central to the polytheism of the ancient Greeks, and even to the Weltanschauung of a lapsed Roman Catholic like Verdi. To introduce such notions into a work by Camus is to misunderstand his thinking.
My misgivings are not based on this sentence alone, important as it is. On page viii of her introduction Sandra Smith writes: "Camus [...] famously remarked that Meursault was the `only Christ we deserve' [...]. One of the most important allusions to religion is in the final line of the novel. Camus has his protagonist say: `Pour que tout soit consommé', an echo of the last words of Jesus on the Cross: `Tout est consommé' [...]. I chose to render this extremely significant phrase `So that it might be finished' to help guide the reader towards the religious implications of the words."
The problem here is that Camus's words do not have "religious implications". Olivier Todd's 1996 biography makes clear that although Albert was christened and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, this was a pure formality. His family, like most people in their working-class neighbourhood, were not religious at all. So Camus had no faith to lose. It could be argued that from the few occasions when he was obliged to attend church he unconsciously retained the words of the Vulgate "consummatum est", but it seems unlikely. In the French Bible the standard translation of Jesus's words is "tout est accompli", but the sense is "fulfilled" rather than "finished"- i.e. Jesus is invoking the fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy. Gilbert translates Meursault's closing words as "For all to be accomplished". This too might be said to contain a religious echo, though I doubt whether that was Gilbert's intention. To avoid all ambiguity, my preference would be "to get it all over and done with", because that is what, knowing his execution to be imminent, Meursault is saying to the reader. Such a wording has the advantage of avoiding all religious overtones.
Sandra Smith might riposte with Camus's claim that his protagonist was a sort of Christ. My reply to that would be that Meursault was indeed (in the Bible's words) "despised and rejected of men". And Meursault too is "crucified", at least in the colloquial sense of the word. The actual method of his execution was slightly less barbaric than Jesus's, but the humiliation, the degradation, was the same. It is only in that sense that Meursault can be said to be "the only Christ we deserve".
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars superfluous new translation?, 4 Jan 2013
By 
gille liath (US of K) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
'Readers may wonder why a new translation is necessary', says translator Sandra Smith of this book.

They may indeed. If the original can be allowed to date, why cannot the translation? Where original and translation are of widely different dates - eg Victorian translations of medieval texts - there might be a good case for updating; but surely not for a novel published in 1942 and first translated within a few years. Not, at least, unless there was something seriously wrong with earlier attempts.

I'm interested in the mechanics of translation, so I can overlook the implicit egoism of the question and of her Translator's Preface - something which is not usual except for very old books or those presenting particular difficulties. But of the three instances she singles out, where she claims previous versions were inadequate, she has (to my mind) made the wrong call on two. Having said only a few lines earlier that updating is necessary to preserve idiomatic language, she tells us that she has chosen to translate 'maman' with 'Mama'. Now, most of us call our Mums 'Mum' - a choice which she inexplicably rejects as 'juvenile' - or perhaps 'Mother' for those who prefer something more formal. 'Mama' is used today, if at all, only by those who have been to public school. Its implication of privilege strikes a wrong note throughout the book.

'Tender indifference' is, as she says, better than 'benign indifference' - if still not quite satisfactory. But to those of us still aware of such things, 'accomplished' would have been a better word than 'finished' for the book's final sentence, echoing the last words of Christ on the cross. 'Finished' would have no Biblical resonance at all, if she had not led us to expect it.

But even if she'd been right every time, three dubious words are not enough to justify a new translation of a book which, in my view, is not that big a wow in the first place. She says 'a big thankyou' to Penguin for letting her do it; and well she might. Nice work if you can get it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frappant sur la porte du malheur sous un soleil insoutenable, 17 Jan 2014
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Outsider (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Although I read this in French, these comments may be useful.

Meursault is a young Algerian `pied-noir' given to observing the world with a clinical detachment. He enjoys a largely physical relationship with his girlfriend Marie who shares his love of swimming and, since Meursault does not judge others, he has an easy, tolerant acceptance of people, including his unsavoury neighbours the aged Salamano, dependent on the pathetic dog which he continually abuses, and the sadistic pimp Raymond.

From the outset there are somewhat chilling indicators of Meursault's unusual and amoral attitude to life. He renews his relationship with Marie and goes to see a comedy film with her the day after attending his mother's funeral. Then, on an afternoon of intense heat, in an almost hallucinatory state of mind, he commits a serious crime for which he appears to feel no remorse.

In the second part of the book largely given over to his very artificial, theatrical trial, we see how Meursault, the outsider, is incriminated as much for how he has behaved in the past - not weeping at his mother's funeral - as for his offence. As he begins to reflect on his situation, we see him in a more sympathetic light.

This famous novel which has attracted a huge amount of attention, may be read on different levels. It could just be the tale, written in clear, minimalist prose, of a man whose lack of 'normal' emotions and values, combined with extreme honesty, seal his fate. On another plane, it illustrates Camus's preoccupation with the absurdity of man's desire for reasons and 'rational behaviour' in a world without meaning. Meursault's accusers have set up arbitrary conventions and rules by which to judge him, but Meursault himself, although for a while afraid of death, is able to come to terms with the essential unimportance of everyone's life, regardless of the value accorded to it by others.

It is also interesting to compare the simplicity of this first novel with the complexity and more self-conscious philosophical digressions of one of Camus's last works, `La Chute'. Both culminate in very powerful final sections, and both need to be read more than once to appreciate them. Camus is a little too bleak for me, but definitely worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gritty hard novel, 16 Aug 2012
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Having come across this book in Amazon, I read it once again. And was greatly surprised. I had studied Camus's novel in my teens as a school text. All these years later I can see levels of achievement and sophistication to the book that were so beyond me back them.
With the passage of years, and so much more reading behind me, I now appreciate that Camus was writing what French novelists and critics in those days called "romans vers" (hard novels). This is a tale where an everyday person leading their life in gritty urban surroundings is forced by circumstance, and a momentary lapse in their behaviour, to confront a deep moral issue. Matters are complicated because those around them, and the authorities, seriously misinterpret the central character's motives; and if they do grasp what this person was thinking, they are shocked.
So "The Outsider" seriously deserves to be read against other "romans vers" including Simenon's Dirty Snow and The Engagement (New York Review Books), and, perhaps, Robbe-Grillet's The Erasers and Jealousy (Oneworld Modern Classics).
I agree with so much that appears in other readers' comments about this book; yet I can see that Camus was seriously contributing to what was happening in French fiction at the time -- the novel is part of a big conversation, not an isolated piece -- and that others will in turn build on his work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lumen abs expedio infernum, 30 Jun 1999
By A Customer
"Understanding comes from the freeing fire."
It has not been a lot that I read a book and cannot sleep after finishing it!
This book is for the person who finds himself an 'outsider' in the social dorm. To me it has shown that 'not knowing' things does not neccesarily mean you must stop living. That is when living starts. Unfortunately society puts roadsigns everywhere. Distrust in the inner voice grows from this and follows with an almost robotic belief in a 'dark' world where we need a 'light'(or sign) to show us where to put the next foot. The book free's you from your own entrapment and shows you what living really means!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First masterpiece from Albert Camus; L'Étranger (1942), 29 Feb 2008
The Outsider was first published in Paris in 1942 and would cement it's author's reputation as one of the most intelligent and imaginative writers of the 20th century. It also remains one the best introductions to the realm of existentialist literature - or that so-called sub-genre they dubbed the philosophical novella - in that it combines certain theoretical ideas that were established in the early writings of Jean-Paul Sartre (particularly his novel Nausea and his short story collection, Le Mur) with a more defined sense of narrative, character and attitude towards politics and morality. Because of this, the story is simplified to the point of non-existence, as J.G. Ballard notes in his personal blurb (surmised on the back of the Penguin Classics publication) "it's the story of a beach murder... blood and sand" which, despite giving away a central plot point of the book, destroys none of the tension or emotional connection that we feel for the central character.

It is Camus' genius in pruning the story down to a bare minimum of scenes and supporting characters that gives the book any social or philosophical weight; with the ramifications of the act and the underlining attitude of our protagonist Meursault defining the crux of the book's theoretical debate over notions of narrative unfolding, etc. The slightness of actual narrative (and I use this term lightly, since many great books have needed very little in the way of story to entrance a reader) and the fact that at a mere 118 pages it remains one of the shortest works of fiction, will no doubt alienate many potential readers; which to me, is a great shame. Camus knows that it is the simplicity of the story and the matter-of-fact way in which he uses his prose to detail this bland everyday existence of our "hero" that will elevate his plight come the closing chapters of the book. In this respect, it reminded me very much of Kieslowski's masterpiece A Short Film About Killing, in that we are introduced to this character who, although warm and to some degree capable of love and tenderness (particularly here, if we look at his various relationships throughout the book with Raymond, Marie, even old Salamano, et al), is withdrawn from the world around him and lost within the trivialities of existence; the sun, the beach and the waves.

Camus argument, paraphrased in his after word as the mere notion that "...any man that doesn't cry at his mother's funeral is liable to be condemned to death" acts as a blistering indictment of the judicial system of 1940's Algiers (in the same way that Kieslowski's afore-mentioned film lamented early-80's Poland), as well as the notion of atheism (lets not forget that Sartre described existentialism as "the attempt to draw all the consequences from a position of consistent atheism"), mortality and the importance of fact in the eyes of those that bend the truth to suit their own view of life, seen through the eyes of a character who is so removed from the world around him that he is incapable of bending the truth, even if the truth will only incriminate him further within the misdeeds of the past. Camus book remains as intelligent and relevant today as it did back in 1942, and offers the reader an enticing theoretical parable, relating to the notions of the social and historical unjust.

The writing throughout is atmospheric, and captures the plight of our narrator Meursault, with whom me share a combination of sadness, empathy, pity and remorse. As Ballard points out in his brief summation, this is one of the century's classic novels, which, in my opinion, deserves to be experienced by as many people as possible.
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The Outsider (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Outsider (Penguin Modern Classics) by Albert Camus (Paperback - 31 Oct 2013)
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