2017年4月29日 星期六

My Thoughts on Albert Camus' The Outsider

Penguin Modern Classics 2013 edition 

    I heard about Albert Camus in a Philosophy class that touched on existentialism and knew that The Outsider/The Stranger is one of his famous novels.

      The book is about a French man, Meursault, in colonial Algeria, The story begins when Meursault's mother died in an elderly home and he had to take leave from work in order to attend the funeral. He does not really feel sad or show any emotions in regard to his mother's death. In the first part of the novel, his life goes on as usual: he made a girlfriend, a friend, goes swimming to the beach on weekend...... He happens to kill an Arab man, who hurt his friend Raymond and pull out a knife in front of him. This puts Meursault on trial and his reactions towards his mother's death and his encounters afterwards all becomes important matters to the judgement of him as a criminal, or as a person in general.

      The novel questions the reality of the values we used to make sense of our lives. Throughout the novel, Meursault expresses indifference to the things that are meaningful and significant to the people around him: death, relationship, marriage, friendship, religion... In the trial, such indifference is literally judged as evidence of soullessness and evil. The novel strikes me as a glimpse of the truth which is seldom noticed. This shows that there is no escape to these values and meaning when we live in society. We either conform or reject them and we will finally be judged according to them. They are constructed to make life seems meaningful and worth living but they have no significance once society ignores them.

    The novel also reflects people's strong desire to make sense of lives using stories. Meursault's thoughts on the prosecutor's concluding speech is very unforgettable. The prosecutor constructs a 'story' of a plotted murder by linking up the events happens in the first part of the novel. Meursault thinks his arguments are completely logical and plausible. I think this challenges our way to make sense of the world by constructing logical and coherent narratives. We think that happenings in out life can be constructed into stories, in which everything can have clear causes and effects and we can judge what is good or bad in those stories. However, things happened in lives can be very random that there is no clear intention that leads one event after another.

     I really like the story and its Philosophical thoughts. This novel is very successful in portraying Meursault as an 'outsider' of society by contrasting him with strong emotions of the people around him. He also constantly forgets who he is supposed to be, i.e. a soon-to-be-married man and a criminal. He is an outsider to his own identity. I also like how other stories are used to echo with the main story, such the Czech story, in which a mother and a sister accidentally killed his son/brother and a man who killed his father. Many things may just happen because of coincidences instead of intentions. Yet we judge them as if it is caused by the latter.

      There are so much to say about this novel and I don't think I understand it thoroughly. I would recommend to people who love to challenge their beliefs and common sense.

2017年4月26日 星期三

Review: Kazou Ishiguro- The Remains of the Day

        It is the fourth book I read by Kazuo Ishiguro. I learn about this author from about a year ago when I happened to pick up one of his earliest novels- An  Artist in the Floating World, which is a powerful story that sticks with me until now. Ishiguro is interested in narratives about memories and seems that he, as a writer, is more interested in how people remember the past than what actually happened. I became interested in Ishiguro's works as I was fascinated by the idea of 'afterwardness' of memory. It is an idea I learnt from a class on narrative theories in my second year of university. It means that memory, although it is directed towards the past, is shaped by how we feel about the present. Thus, it changes continuously when our present situation changes. It is very inspiring since we usually concern whether one's memory is reliable or not, meaning how it reflects the actual past events accurately. Yet this idea brings out the importance of the subjectivity of memories.

     The Remains of the Day is also about one's memory triggered by the present. Set in 1956 England, the novel is about an English Butler, Stevens, remembers his days when he was serving Lord Darlington between the two world wars. Lord Darlington is a master who had considerable influence on British foreign policies between the two world wars. Stevens recounts the days when there were unofficial international conferences happened in the Hall Darlington and how he took pride of serving important political figures. He thinks about how his contribution is significant to his career and recounts his relationship with his former employer and fellow worker Miss Kenton. The moral and political ideas and the professional ideals of English Butlers have changed a lot since then. The novel touches on themes like dignity, professionalism and historical responsibility. It leaves the reader lots of important questions such as whether one should change his judgement on the moral characters of a person, because of his contribution to the negative consequences in which he can hardly foresee when he took those actions. This is the question that also sticks with me when I was reading An Artist in the Floating World.

   I like the subtlety of this novel. I feel like I was in a mist that I am not sure why Stevens considers those memories significant. It is not only over the second half of the novel I understands what he really struggles with about the past. At the same time, I am not sure whether he is a reliable narrator or not or he is just trying to present himself as a dignified and successful butler; and I also cannot tell whether he really feels the way he tells us as he is used to repressing his emotions in order to perform his duties as a dignified butler. Although this novel is both subtle and serious, it is not lack of comic relief and climaxes, which made me enjoy it even more.

    I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in British culture and histories or narratives about memories or moral questions.