I’m titling this “I read The Stranger” and purposefully not calling this a review or a critical analysis.
So yeah, I read The Stranger because it was recommended to me by a friend in college a long time ago. She was more my roommate’s friend and I vaguely recall that he cheated on his girlfriend with this girl but only in a drunken one-night thing kind of way, but it hadn’t happened yet when she recommended the book, and all of this is totally irrelevant to the story. What I really mean to say is that this person didn’t really stick in my life. But for whatever reason, the recommendation of The Stranger stuck in my mind for years. I must’ve mentioned something about how much I enjoyed The Myth of Sisyphus, which is also by Camus. It’s a non-fiction essay, which I haven’t revisited in several years, but spoke to me very much as a senior in high school and definitely highly influenced my philosophical thinking back then. He’s also French, and perhaps I mentioned something about wanting to read something in the original French and that’s how it came up? Who knows anymore. It was a lifetime ago. A year later, I briefly joined a French class and then dropped it because it was awkward and not fun. (French in high school was some of the most fun I had.) I still have yet to read How I Became Stupid in French, which was one of my favorite novels. I’m rambling again with irrelevant details. I eventually bought The Stranger at a used bookstore, remembering the recommendation. Then it sat on my shelf for some more years. I once took it with me on some type of trip, read part of the first chapter, then put it back on the shelf. Then, I finally read the thing.
And after all that, I have to say that I was really disappointed. Like, I didn’t really get it. Yeah, I guess I’ll talk more about how I didn’t like a literary classic and make myself sound like a dumbass, but this is how I feel. So the guy was kind of disconnected from the world and murdered someone? Neat? Maybe he was spectrumy? At the end, I didn’t really comprehend the philosophies underneath it, nor did I enjoy the journey along the way.
I have to contrast it with two other things I enjoyed. First, Crime and Punishment, which is fucking awesome. The dude murders someone with an axe because of his philosophical arguments, and then it torments him. You’re in the mind of this dude, and you feel weird as fuck when you finally have to tear yourself from the book and walk around in the real world. You feel paranoid like the book’s spell hasn’t worn off. I didn’t feel pulled into the mind of the mind of the main character of The Stranger. Then again, maybe I’m coming at the book at the wrong angle. The character is disconnected, so maybe I should have felt disconnected from him too. But I feel like I at least should’ve felt some amount of unsettled while reading it. Instead, I just felt slightly puzzled, I guess.
The other thing I’ll contrast it with is Mr. Robot. I loved season 1. I’m still not sure how I feel about season 2. There were things I liked about it, but I feel like I can’t even judge it as a season until I see the next season, which is kind of frustrating — ah, but this is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about here. It’s a very unsettling show. The camera-work. Wow. Sometimes the main character in the shot will have their head way to the side of it. It’s very disorienting. Well, it’s hard to convey the feeling with such a bare bones description, so you should just watch the damn show. Rami Malek just won an Emmy for his work as the main character, Elliot. His acting is awesome. The show really nails the tone and atmosphere. I particularly felt unsettled during the part where Mr. Robot drops him in a sitcom, and it manages to nail the tone of the sitcom, while being really dark too. It’s great. Anyway, so I had recently been watching that show, and that show blew me away, and Crime and Punishment blew me away when I first read it too. I was expecting to be blown away by this novel too. It was by one of my favorite philosophers… and… well, it never gripped me the way these did. It never put me in a weird headspace despite sharing some superficial similarities with Crime and Punishment. The psyche of the main character just wasn’t that interesting compared to Crime and Punishment or Mr. Robot. I wanted profound alienation, but I barely felt any kind of disconnection. I just kind of got what the character’s deal was and also kind of didn’t. And while I had some grasp on the character, I didn’t really know what the book was trying to say, and didn’t enjoy it enough to really, really get it if it was there and I missed it. Whereas with Crime and Punishment, it sets up the themes rather nicely and follows through and finishes well. We’re still in the middle of Mr. Robot, but it’s so compelling that I have to keep watching to understand the mysteries.
I know, I know, this is more about my feelings and less critical analysis. I was pretty upfront about that when you started reading this, though. Maybe I’m being unfair in my expectations. The next step would be to read the thing and analyze it… figure out why the other two things work for me… and what about the Stranger didn’t work for me… but if I didn’t enjoy it, why would I re-read it?
Expectations matter and color your perceptions. I wanted something great after all these years expecting something great, but I didn’t get it. Maybe if I had read it back then, I would’ve loved it. It would still be a few years until I read Crime and Punishment, and Mr. Robot hadn’t even been conceived yet. My philosophies have evolved quite a bit since then too. Who knows?