At the start of the book, sentences are short, written in a matter-of-fact manner. There is nothing beautiful about them. They are factual statements, like the weather being hot, him being thirsty, his mother being dead, etc. I could have put this book down after chapter one.
He is basically journaling to us as though he were a newspaper. Telling us who he met today. Who his neighbours are. How irritating the people at the elderly home he took his mother were. You start to wonder whether there is a point to all of this until he introduces a man called Raymond.
Up to now, there is little emotion in the story, little action. When Raymond is introduced, the themes of the book explode.
We are allowed into the man’s honest life which lives outsides the world of lies and deceit. We understand how being truthful through and through can immediately alienate one in all matters of life, from work, to relationship, to religion to justice. We see how even the most natural actions to us can and will be used against us in a court of law.
Merseult is constantly being forced to say things he doesn’t believe, adapt to systems he is incompatible with, lie to save his skin. Things he has failed to do, things which inevitably leave him an outsider.
Albert Camus, the author, is described as an absurdist. It is exactly how he portrayed Merseult in the book. He is anti-establishment, not militantly but essentially. He lives with complete honesty but because people are not used to this, he’s in simple terms “absurd.”
Absurdism is described as the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe.
There are so many questions the book brings to thought. What if we all told all the truth? Why do we tell lies? Why do we conform to society? Is it because we are wired that way and those of us who rather go against the tide are considered strange, unmotivated, lacking ambition, inhumane?
Perhaps if there was nothing to lose, we’d tell the truth?
In the words of a friend, Albert Camus “managed…in a few chapters to ridicule institutions of relationships, religion, the judicial system…”
When he has a paroxysm of anger towards a priest that is trying to convince him he needs to be saved, we see indirectly, the author’s loathing of the religious. To him, truth is now. Truth is what he can see and feel and experience.
The book questions society and society’s attitude towards the different. However, it also questions notions of hope, love, faith, which are some of the basic tenets of human life. Perhaps absurdism is living as honest as one can be? Or maybe it is emptiness and that is why society rathers we live as though we had purpose? Or maybe it is nonsense?
Read the book, tell me what you think.
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