My friend Liz recently lent me a book that’d she’d read. The Outsider or The Stranger, depending on the translation (it’s L’Étranger in French) by Albert Camus.
I’d heard of him before – like in a song by The Magnetic Fields, I really like that song, which you can listen to here, and had actually tried looking up Camoo a few years ago when I first heard it (because I’m a spaz) – the novel is only a hundred pages long, so I sat down and read it in a few hours.
Verdict: glad i read it, but pretty fucken depressing actually. Thanks french guy. You totally ruined my arvo.
One thing I noticed while reading up on Camus afterwards was that he looks spookily like an old, french, Joe Strummer.
A few weeks ago Andy told me it was a bit of a shame that Camus kind of reminded him of Paul Coelho, you know, the author of The Alchemist. (I can’t remember exactly what Andy was saying about Coelho because I was quite drunk by the time I was speaking to him – Andy sorry if i’m misrepresenting you, I’m pretty sure you didn’t like it).
The Outsider is similarily a fable, I don’t know how similar it is because everytime I tried to read The Alchemist I fell asleep.
I’m a firm believer in giving a book a chance, but if you are a third of the way through (or 60 pages, whatever comes first) and fighting off boredom/sleep then you can and should give up (on works of fiction at least).
While reading The Alchemist I was constantly aware that Coelho was trying to teach me something, pushing me towards ‘a moral’. It was like: “look! a metaphor for the soul! Look: an analogy for life! Christian symbolism! Wow!” It gets old pretty quickly. It’s really so obvious in its didacticism and the writing is so fucking bland. not to mention the linear storytelling. I know he’s trying to ‘help’ people, but i can’t get past the idea that it’s just bad writing.
In terms of the didatic, fablistic (is that a word?) nature of the stories, I had similar misgiving towards Tolstoy’s short stories like (“the death of Ivan Illyvich” etc. etc.) when we did 19th Century Russian lit at uni, although they were more bearable because they were written by Tolstoy (i.e. written really fuckin well). And anyway Tolstoy was anarchist who died making a point about his beliefs. Definately one of literature’s good guys.
So anyway, despite the fact that it was a fable, or maybe even because of it, I’m glad I read the Outsider. It’s about a dude who goes through life with very little emotional attachment to anything. Thats what marks him as an outsider, his disconnection to emotion – his disconnection to the human, or what people see as the thing that makes us human. And it scares people. He is unattached to, and untouched by, the world, like a Buddhist or something.
Rather than hide this flaw, he is completely honest about it. What is interesting about him is that even though he is cold to the world, you actually feel alot empathy for him. He is almost like a passive observer to his own life. He doesn’t lie about anything, he is intelligent, rational, and certain of his beliefs. He is strongly atheistic, detached and basicly the opposite of those people around him, who function as carefully constructed ‘character foils’ that demonstrate how different he is (thanks university!). So he exposes the absurdity of the human condition and life and remians true to himself right to the end.