jueves, 15 de octubre de 2015

L'étranger

L'étranger (Folio, 2014)
by Albert Camus
French Algeria, 1942

"Aujourd'hui, maman est morte.  Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas" ["Mom died today.  Or maybe yesterday, I don't know"] confides the eerily detached narrator at the outset of L'etranger [The Stranger].  "J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile : << Mère décédée.  Enterrement demain.  Sentiments distingués.  >> Cela ne veut rien dire.  C'était peut-être hier" ["I received a telegram from the old people's home: 'Mother deceased.  Burial tomorrow.  Regards.'  That means nothing.  Maybe it was yesterday"] (9). Meursault, the pied noir narrator of Camus' first novel and an enigmatic character who variously comes across as either "slow," mentally ill, evil or some toxic mix of all of the above even if you don't buy his oddly persuasive story that he's extremely debilitated by the blinding power of the Algerian sun, coolly goes on to cop to the crime of having gunned down a man described only as "l'Arabe" ["the Arab"] (92).  In the trial that follows, a guilty verdict is arrived at which seems to stem more from the accused's apparent lack of sorrow over his mother's death and from his lack of remorse over the unnamed homicide victim's death than from the possibly premeditated hate crime slaying of "l'Arabe" itself.  Having not read L'étranger in something like 25 or 30 years but having wanted to reacquaint myself with the novel in anticipation of finally getting around to reading Kamel Daoud's 2013 literary sensation Meursault, contre-enquête [The Meursault Investigation], I was happy to be reminded about how powerful and, well, unsettling Camus' classic is--not least for the primal nature of the spare first person narration; the ethical sleight of hand with which the novelist manages to build some sympathy for the narrator even though Meursault's guilt as a cold-blooded killer is never in doubt; and for the occasional moments like this one in which four bullets gratuitously shot into a dead man's already inert corpse are almost lyrically transformed into a description equating them with being something like "quatre coups brefs que je frappais sur la porte du malheur" ["four brief knocks on the door of misfortune"] (93).  In short, the best novel penned by a French Algerian Joe Strummer lookalike that I'm likely to sing the praises of all month.

Albert Camus (1913-1960)

6 comentarios:

  1. I don't see many people writing about Camus today. Probably they are and I'm just not looking in the right places. But I can't think of another author who so starkly lays out the modern moral and existential condition. I'm curious to read that Daoud book despite its seeming inevitable. In the meantime, I may well re-read L'étranger too. What a great book for high school students; I still remember how at age 16, those first lines opened up an alternative universe to the way one was expected to feel and behave.

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    1. I wonder if the relative lack of people writing about Camus is actually due to the fact that so many people read him in school or pre-blogging. I very much enjoyed my reread of this one, though, and look forward to reading La peste (one of your favorites as I recall) for the first time before too long. By the way, you certainly speak eloquently of Camus' impact on readers!

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  2. Inevitable, I know - yet it took 70 years! And more amazingly it is set "now," 70 years after L'étranger. No cheating for Daoud.

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    1. I wonder if Meursault, contre-enquéte will eventually attain the stature of Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea as a call and response classic that actually stands on its own. In the meantime, I'm very eager to read it given what you and many others have said about its upsides.

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  3. The idea of reading L'stranger again, alongside the Daoud is very attractive. Like yourself it is twenty years plus since I read this but it remains. I read La Peste a few years back and it retains the power to disturb. How did you manage to resist linking to The Cure?

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    1. Easy: ignorance! I'm not really a fan of the Cure, so I wasn't actually aware of that Camus-influenced song "Killing an Arab" until you mentioned it. Glad to hear La peste retains its power. I should probably read that one of these days. Cheers!

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