Book | The Outsider – Albert Camus


Only got round to reading this for the first time quite recently. It’s the kind of book you can read comfortably on a two hour train journey and come away experiencing an explosion of different larger-than-life feelings. Not that I ought to really banalise Camus’ existentially-themed classic into such terms, of course…

Mother died today.

Does everyone know the famous first line of The Outsider? It sets the tone for the whole work. Meursault’s narrative is emotionally unattached and overly logical. He describes his life and its events with such laconic candidness and containment, and sees things in such a straight-forward way, that in the crux of the novel where he murders an Arab, Meursault is seemingly indifferent to his fate.

But why is Meursault therefore a reject of society, an outsider, besides the fact that he killed a man? His character is very different to that of Castel in Ernesto Sabato’s The Tunnel, another short novel that shares the same themes of existentialism and of its protagonist confessing brutal honesty. Unlike Castel, Meursault is loved and admired by his society as the upstanding neighbour, a reputable confidant, an engimatic lover, and does not sit awkwardly at the periphery of society. Only when Meursault expresses his lack of remorse of the murder, viewing it more like an annoyance than a significant moment of regret, does he become take on the form of the outsider. Meursault is an outsider because he refuses to lie.

Society imposes its own sets of rules and regulations to live by whose meaning is often taken for granted. Anything that challenges and contravenes this meaning is threatening to society, which is why Meursault takes on this marginalised status. Is he a sociopath? Is he much different from Kevin? This interpretation of meaning, and even the realisation of meaning’s futility and its illusory presence, seems to be something that everybody ponders over and challenges at some point in their lives. Does anything even matter, even the murder of another human being(s)? I don’t know enough about existentialism or philosophy to attempt to come up with some kind of answer, probably because there is none, but it seems that these characters set themselves against society and can only make their own meaning of meaning. Living purely for the truth, as Meursault does, seems an oddly satisfying and liberating way to live life, which is probably why The Outsider still resonates today as a pocket classic, particularly popular with edgy teenagers and people suffering from fraction-life identity crises.

Crude representation of an existential crisis

Crude representation of an existential crisis

Similarly to Sabato, Camus likes to use the imagery of stars to frame the significance of humanity against an exhausting, alienating world, which I thought was kinda neat.

I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realised that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy

Unrelated to this “review”, but as for my absence this past week and a half or so, I have been beavering away spending my waking hours on the streets trying to sell a certain student discount card to the masses of freshers to get me some money rolling in… Argh.


5 responses to “Book | The Outsider – Albert Camus

  1. I absolutely love this book! Incidentally, I read a different translation; mine was called “The Stranger,” and the first line was “Mammon died today.” It was heart breaking. Meursault didn’t seem to care much for his life, until the very end, when it was suddenly and abruptly taken away from him.

    I’m so happy someone else has read this book.

  2. The Outsider is probably Camus’ best known work, though I think The Fall is his best. In the scene where Meursault returns to the beach it’s as though the elements were in charge — the sound, or absence of sound, the sun rays, the heat. This story has often been reduced to being the story of “pieds noirs”, the Europeans living in Algeria. I believe it is somewhat autobiographical. Meursault’s interaction with the priest (l’aumônier) is very telling but probably not behaviour that is typical of pieds noirs.

  3. The protagonist of the book, Merausult (i hope that the spelling is right) is a person who shows little emotions and is a man of less words.
    This book portrays the absurdity of life. It belongs to the class of philosophy called “Existentialism”. If you are not familiar with the philosophy, do read about it in brief before reading the book. Wikipedia is a great source.
    Now to the story, everything was going on regularly in merausult life until he murdered some Arab guy. Out of nowhere this comes as a shock i was not able to explain the murder. After that the guy was convicted and sentenced to death. The thing that seems unusual was that the guy didn’t seemed to be panicking at any point of time (besides at the last moment). Everything appeared absurd , to me this guy was some lazy ass guy with no power of thinking. But since i read about the philosophy the things become more clear.
    The murder was justified, his coolness was justified, his panicking was justified.
    And at last the fear of a stranger in people mind’s is justified.

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