Review of The Stranger (1942)


Albert Camus (writer).

Read in Swedish.

UK editions are called The Outsider, like the short story “The Outsider” (1926). Camus bears comparison to its author, H. P. Lovecraft.

Apparently, protagonist Meursault’s behaviour is a consequence of a dysteleological philosophical position, which he lays out to the prison chaplain. Camus assumes that this philosophy can undermine empathy, a pretty basic human emotion. Essentially, Meursault lacks empathy because life doesn’t make sense to him intellectually, and life doesn’t make sense to him because nature is realistically at odds with human intuition and desire.

This causal connection from an informal philosophical conviction to the basic emotional life of the organism is a false hypothesis about human psychology. Camus is simply wrong about it. People do not become sociopaths when they learn what science has to say about our humble place in the cosmos.

Lovecraft and his collaborators sometimes made the same mistake. A few of his villains grow callous and murderous when they realize the truth. See, for example, “The Last Test” (1928) or “The Electric Executioner” (1930). However, Lovecraft also did other, smarter things to illustrate how little we enjoy the truth. His metaphors were wonderful works of additive science fiction, which is a better approach to the problem than direct contradiction of fact. Camus is more of a one-trick pony, but he writes well. The murder scene in sunlight is especially good.

References here: Roadside Picnic (1972).

text fiction