This was listed as the most influential book for male readers in a poll. I had not read it and therefore rectified this injustice recently. Written in 1942 by French author Camus, this modern classic is a rather short novel but gets to the crux straight away. Basically, the narrator is an honest man who does not conform to social norms. And because of this he is shunned by society and it may even cost him his life.
I can see why this book leaves its mark on so many people. At the very start of the story, the narrator's mother dies. She lived in a nursing home and so the exact date of her death wasn't established ('My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know'). The fact that he didn't clarify the date indicates to some that he didn't care about his mother, but to the narrator it doesn't really matter because she is dead whether she died today or yesterday.
The story continues with other incidents such as his lack of emotion at the funeral, his meeting and subsequent romantic relationship with a woman, (which is perceived as being too hasty following his mother's death) and his dealings with his neighbours. His lack of conformity is used against him in a court of law after he kills someone.
This is an easy read with many short sentences. However, the simplicity disguises how complex and many-layered the story is. Every point is relevant. The indirect speech that was used throughout the first part of the book gives context to the second part, which is more urgent as the climax to the story. The trial and his time in custody is where the narrator assesses injustice, alienation, existential concepts and, in his own words, a study of the absurd. The book has also been translated and published under the name of The Stranger, further illustrating how unusual, if honest, responses lead to people being unfairly judgemental. Those who don't behave in the expected ways are cast out.
I can see how this novel has topped polls for influential books. Looking forward to reading Camus' other works.
Originally published in 1942 by Gallimard (France). This edition Penguin 31 October 2013.