I was lent The Outsider by a friend who said it was a book he was interested to hear my thoughts on. It’s a book that tells a very simple tale of a man who is arrested after committing a murder and the interesting discussions to be had from the hearing that subsequently takes place.
The Outsider follows Meursault in Algeria as he navigates life after his mother’s death and subsequent funeral and then the murder of an Arab man in French Algiers who was involved in a conflict already with one of his neighbours. He is arrested, taken to prison and then we follow his brief journey with prison and the court hearing.
The Outsider plot – 4/5
The Outsider, as written above, covers the story of Meursault who sees the world slightly differently from others. Back when this was written there may not have been a diagnosis for it, however, these days it would likely be considered a form of psychopathy or simply high-level autism. With his ability to socialise and perform everyday tasks, I would say it borders more on being a psychopath. You see, Meursault doesn’t seem to feel the loss after his mother’s funeral. He’s noted by other people to have not cried and then to have been seen swimming jauntily in the sea mere days after. He doesn’t understand why he didn’t cry but he says he’s not sure when is right to cry.
The book is a novella, coming in at just over 110 pages. Accompanied with this, Camus writes it in a very blunt and short-sentenced way. I’ve not read Camus’ other books but I would say it has been written like this to add to the element of our main character’s psychotic state and his inability to form deep thoughts or emotions about things. Life simply goes by and he’s simply there to watch it and partake.
The Outsider is one of those books that explores different themes. It explores the idea of a lack of understanding of why someone can feel no sadness for his mother’s passing and have no remorse upon killing a man and yet still be a “good man”. We read throughout the book of Meursault feeling bad for his neighbour’s dog whom his neighbour abuses, we read of him enjoying the company of his fling throughout but when asked by her if he loves her he suggests he doesn’t think so, but would still marry her when she asks.
There’s a big question of the support Meursault would have received today as opposed to back then and how the case may have been treated differently. You’d argue he may well be given a different sentence as we have a better understanding of these sorts of mental states these days. There’s a lot to think about whilst reading this book which is why I enjoyed it.
The Outsider characters – 5/5
Now, this is a very interesting one as I often say that I rate characters highly in a book when they either have me physically laughing or they have a trait that makes me fall in love (they’re incredibly kind, they have a comeback story or they’re intelligent for example). However, in The Outsider, our main character Meursault is a fascinating character in a different way. Whether intentionally or not, Albert Camus has written a character here who not only struggles to translate emotions but also has clear lack of connection with people. There are many moments where he actively notes that he doesn’t have feelings either way for people and has to internally discuss whether now that he has performed certain actions whether that changes his relationship status with someone.
This with the additional factor that the supporting characters around him are all so vivid makes the very few characters in this book all very unforgettable. His “friend” and neighbour is a man who is clearly a tad mean with a bad temper but treated Meursault well so he allows them to be friends. His girlfriend is someone with whom he enjoys spending time and kissing so he decides he would say yes if she asked him to marry her despite not being sure if he loves her. She takes this to mean he isn’t sure if he’s there yet emotionally, yet he means he is literally not sure what love feels like. It’s really interesting.
The Outsider summary – 4/5
The Outsider could easily have received a higher rating as it was a book that very much made me think. It felt like one of these books you’d discuss for weeks in your English class. The characters are interesting, the plot moves at a break-neck pace to allow for more to happen in it’s minimal page count and it has you coming away with plenty of questions as to the author’s intentions. However, it just lacked any real excitement for me, which kept it from being a true five-star read.