Albert Camus' novella, The Outsider is generally regarded as one of the great novels ever written. When I read it first, years ago, I felt it was a great work of literature. Having read it subsequently again, I felt an immense vacillation, a dysphoria, and this increased on my third and last reading.
As a well written, well crafted book, it has few parallels. The fame of the opening sentences is legion. The depiction and the quality of some images is surely amongst the very best in literature. The economy of the book is well matched by the spare expressions of the protagonist Mersault, if he can be called that. His taciturn, almost stylish silence is the resounding theme of the novel, for it is an answer to the absurdity of life, as seen from his eyes.
That he constantly maintains that mood is the success of the first part of the novel. Mersault clearly carries out defiantly the philosophy Camus propounded so eloquently in his famous essay the myth of Sisyphus. His sbsurdist philosophy sees us to the end of his story. However, it is to the murdered Arab man that I must draw attention to, for he is not mentioned after his death at all.
And it is to this that I object most, for it is this lack of sensitivity on Camus' part that the novel, now seen through new eyes, lacks worth.
There is a complete negation of the murdered man, of his importance, his existence, of who he is. That the murder, for that is what it is, is attributed to the glaring sun is a failure of sensibility on the writers part. This is an imperial attitude, of the conqueror's towards the slave, the strong towards the weak, towards the vanquished, the forgotten. That the act is a part of his mood, his headache is important. It is not premeditated and that is important too, signifying that the Arab man is not even worth killing.
It is Mersault's story but is it? If Camus shows the absurdity of life and death, he succeeds but while Mersault dies lyrically, the Algerian dies unannounced. It is this failure, this taking sides in a political drama, this imperial attitude that Camus settles for that the outsider fails as a document of a coherent philosophy.
I find it sad that Camus fails the very land he loves so dearly, its sun, its beaches, its beautiful people. However, in neither this book nor the plague does the native figure at all. It is as if the natives dont exist, for their world, their land and their sun is not so material.
I admire Camus as a novelist, philosopher and essayist. Some of his essays, especially in the notes are so lyrical. Yet, the cursory manner in which the colonized man is dismissed is a reflection of a failure and the harshness of an era of oppression, making it look like a defence of colonialism.
That Camus can live despite this novel is his real greatness. That he can live inspite of the outsider is his failure.