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.
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.
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).
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!
on 21 December 2015
Beginning 'The Outsider' I was taken aback by how amateurish the 1st person narrative appeared. As the book progressed it shone into light, comparing the early staccato speech / descriptive patterns with Meursault's lack of feeling for anything, lack of connection with anything or anyone in life, purely existence without right or wrong to the more descriptive beauty and evocation of feeling he experiences when he accepts his execution and how meaningful life then becomes to him. His complete lack of empathy with other peoples ideas of what is normal, valuable or worthwhile question whether life is only meaningful to those who decide to accept a meaning something he feels is intellectually moot.
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.
on 14 June 2014
Sometimes when you read translations, you are very aware that it is just that and they plod along at a very slow "clunk!" However, I enjoyed reading this book as a book in its own right and found the translator's notes at the end helpful. As for the story itself, not one to read perhaps if you are feeling down heartened. This won't help!
on 4 March 2014
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".
on 4 January 2013
'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.
on 6 January 2016
Moving, swept away on the tidal wave of timeless narration. Shocking, disturbing, unsettling under the scorching sun wittering a man so wrongly accused for lack of emotion not felt at the funeral of his mother. This is my introduction to Camus. I will read him fervently.