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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 January 2014
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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on 23 February 2009
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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on 8 April 2015
This is, I think, the fourth translation of Camus' L'Etranger that I've read, as well as the Gallimard paperback in French. The older translations (Gilbert and then O'Brien) now seem a bit dusty and rely too heavily on Americanisms that have a weird vibe of the Steinbeckian way o' talkin' yeah?

Joseph Laredo's translation then appeared some time later and is still the one for me. Sure, there are some minor semantic bumps in Laredo's text but a translator's never - ever - gonna get everything right. Laredo's genius was to get into the mindset of the principal character and take it from there. (Maybe not one for American readers so much. Maybe English has finally forked?)

Most of the spectral pied-noir Gaijin's French is fairly direct but even to this day there's still not been a truly satisfactory translation of the opening and closing sentences of this book into English. Laredo gets closest to a tolerable translation of these.

This edition (translator: Sandra Smith) is alright - but the English in it often doesn't sound the way people speak. Meursault refers to his mum as 'mama' in this - it comes across like one of Elizabeth Windsor's kids. The French 'maman' is mum and mother at the same time: 'mama' is just diddy speak. Almost literally!

This Camus novel is a must-read no matter your translation.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 January 2015
There are not many 20th century French writers who surpass Camus in fame or importance and 'The Outsider' is one of his best known works. A study of not conforming to social convention, of somehow being integrated into the accepted societal fabric only on the surface, may not shock modern readers to the extent it would have after publication in 1942 and will have perhaps a less emotional effect on more mature readers than the coming of age ones but is fundamentally a very intriguing topic aptly handled by the author.

Mersault, a pied noir in Algeria, who on the whole represents pretty much an average, normal existence is exposed to several - by common definition - life altering experiences, without having the expected, socially sanctioned response to them; something for which he ultimately needs to be judged.

The author does little to make his character unduly likeable, something that must have been more novel for a protagonist back in 1942 than it is today. Mersault may be cold, living in the moment, somewhat sociopathic and only imperfectly adjusted - am outsider - but he also comes across as honest to himself and non-conformist as a result, irrespective of consequences.

The book - in addition to the powerful impact on the culture, and thought provoking message for a teenage audience - is also wonderfully written. The prose is evocative and one really finds oneself at beaches in Algeria, smelling the cooking in the restaurants, the sweat on the buses and trams.

As mentioned, the book will have different effects on readers, depending on age and prior experience. It raises some important questions for adolescents to grapple with, which may well produce a response at an emotional level, whereas it may appeal more at a cerebral level for an older audience.

Possibly not as striking as first written, it - in my opinion - belongs to the 20th century classics that should be read (something that with its easy flowing prose and relatively short length does not require an insuperable effort to do).
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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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on 9 September 2015
I was struck recently by a feeling of detachment from my own existence. My wife sometimes complains that I'm detached from her existence too. This led to my buying a copy of The Outsider, which I had read 20 years or so ago although as it turned out had largely forgotten.

What had stayed with me was the evocative imagery of this book. The sense of place - the sea, the sun, the neighbourhood in which Meursault lives - are beautifully painted.

As to Meursault, in the early stages of the book I found him a sympathetic character, in terms of his idiosyncrasies and his rejection of social norms.

However, on re-reading this book I fear that Meursault may have become a character who is out of step with the sensibilities of our age. As another reviewer points out, Meursault is unconcerned by his neighbour's violent attack on his girlfriend, and he is equally indifferent to 'the Arab' whom he kills. Perhaps this could be excused to some extent by the age in which the book was written, by the Existentialism which underpins it, or just by the fact that Camus in his work for the Resistance was on the side of the angels. But I do still find these issues rather troubling.

I'm sorry to have to raise these criticisms, because The Outsider remains a beautifully crafted novel which I would recommend you to read.
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on 29 February 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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on 26 September 2009
I love this book. I first read it when I was about twenty, and was blown away. At a time when I was wrestling with my own feelings, the idea that someone could be honest about his lack of emotions was staggering. On re-reading it years later, I find it flawed (is Mersault really being consistent?) but still brilliant.

However, I have a problem with this edition. The premise is that Mersault is a perfectly acceptable, sociable, young man about town. He just happens not to love his mother very much and is honest enough not to lie about it - this is why it is such a challenging book. However, someone at Penguin has chosen to publish it with a cover illustration of a drooling psychopath, which is utterly at odds with the text, and will give readers completely the wrong preconceptions. Hadn't they read the book?
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on 21 July 2004
In 'The Outsider' Camus exposes the way in which the world rejects the truth and is unable to empathise with the feelings of those 'outsiders' who do not conform to their moral code.
Meursault's refusal to act out the feelings of remorse and grief - his refusal to lie - no matter what the consequences is what makes the character so real and the book such a compelling and satisfying read.
I'd recommend this book because the questions raised by it go beyond the confines of the story and it asks us if we really want to know the truth and if honesty really is the best policy.
Gives pause for thought - always a good thing!
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on 29 November 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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