Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942)

Existentialist short novel (novella really), though Camus would resist the label ‘existentialist.’ Mersault is a haunting narrator, providing a sensual account of a life lived in the moment–a commitment to the everday pleasures of objects and sensations: of the sight of a cat crossing an empty street at dusk; the taste of black pudding and red wine; the feel of the sea, sand, and the warmth of another body–at the expense of any consideration for the undercurrents of human society: respectability, discretion, impermeable codes of conduct and comportment. Mersault is fated to his end from the moment he fails to cry at his mother’s funeral, because he is a stranger–an outsider–to ordinary society. Yet this otherness also saves him. One is tempted to agree with Louis Hudon’s assertion that Camus’ novel is not existentialist (Louis Hudon, ‘The Stranger and the Critics.’ Yale French Studies. No. 25 (1960)) because Mersault suffers none of the torments of, say, Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, who suffers in his alienation, brought about by his consciousness of the absurdity of society. Mersault reconciles himself with this absurdity, with the notion that nothing matters, and in doing so he finds a sort of peace, almost zen-like in its asceticism. His raging response to the priest at the end of the novel is not a breakthrough or a breakdown, as such, merely a confirmation of what Mersault has known all along: that nothing really matters, that the universe is indifferent to our suffering and our success equally, and that all there is to do is live, 24 hours at a time. This is Camus’ idea of ‘Revolt.’ Weirdly uplifting.

Country: France
Genre: Philosophical Novel, Crime Fiction
Ism: Absurdism, sort-of Existentialism.
Influences: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Influenced: Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller

From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
[Camus] developed the twin philosophical ideas—the concept of the Absurd and the notion of Revolt—that made him famous. These are the ideas that people immediately think of when they hear the name Albert Camus spoken today. The Absurd can be defined as a metaphysical tension or opposition that results from the presence of human consciousness—with its ever-pressing demand for order and meaning in life—in an essentially meaningless and indifferent universe. Camus considered the Absurd to be a fundamental and even defining characteristic of the modern human condition. The notion of Revolt refers to both a path of resolved action and a state of mind. It can take extreme forms such as terrorism or a reckless and unrestrained egoism (both of which are rejected by Camus), but basically, and in simple terms, it consists of an attitude of heroic defiance or resistance to whatever oppresses human beings.

Further Reading: