16. Book Review: The Outsider, Albert Camus

Even though I read plenty of good books all the time (check me out, eh?) I’ve never seen much of a point in writing a review on WordPress for a book that was:

a) First published many decades ago and,

My edition of The Outsider, Albert Camus. Purchased in store from Waterstones.

b) Is already an established classic.

If it checks these two boxes then it should be on everyone’s to read list irrespective of my thoughts on it. That said, yet another review can’t exactly hurt either, can it? And seeing as I can’t be bothered to write creatively tonight, I’ll share my thoughts on the off-chance it will pique someone’s interest.

I starting reading The Plague, also by Camus, a couple of years ago, but lost the book after the first few chapters. It wasn’t until recently that I came across it again while browsing Waterstones, and decided to pick up both another copy of The Plague and also The Outsider, a book I’d heard a little about and knew to be a family favourite.

The Outsider is a rather compact book and with some effort a person could read it in one day. It’s a first person account of what I assume to be an “existentialist” protagonist as he drifts through life. I say assume as I’m not entirely sure what the phrase “existentialist” means, and out of respect for the reader I wont google it and pass off the knowledge as my own, but I feel I have a good enough idea. Suffice to say he “exists” in the moment, and his thoughts lack many of the trappings of conventional ideology. This means he appears stoic in the face of all events, which often makes him appear cold, although it is worth underlining that there is nothing inherently evil in the philosophy itself. It is just “being” or “existing.”

For instance, the book opens with his mother’s death, which he attends with no demonstrable sadness. We understand our protagonist kept his sick mother at his house for as long as possible but eventually lacked the means to financially support her and sent her to a state-run care home. This is understandable, however other characters subtly note that this point does not appear to distress him to the standard that society deems necessary. Even though his actions are perfectly rational, people take umbrage at his casual demeanour, and would instead prefer him to express guilt or show remorse over his decision. Instead his response is the literal truth: he couldn’t afford to support her. If he could have, he would have kept her at his house, but he couldn’t, so he sent her to a care home.

Through this mechanism our Outsider shows the first of many irrational social conventions. On the one hand what he says is true: he can’t control his decision to send his mother away as he couldn’t afford to keep her, and as it so clearly wasn’t his fault, then why should he feel guilt? The answer, we quickly realise, is solely because society accepts it for no other reason than that is how things are done. In this way we see just how the Outsider lives up to the title, although I would argue that not even he realises it until the end of the story, and thus many may come to see the monsters to be the mob who eventually condemn him for his placid refusal to play the social game. That is likely Camus’ point. Our Outsider is a man who tells the truth, who sees things as they are, and that makes him dangerous to a culture based on hypocrisy.

Despite this relatively victimless example (his dead mother doesn’t mind, does she?), the Outsider is party to some more serious offences. I wont exactly tell you what they are, but his responses really will get you thinking over where your allegiance lies, or even if you find yourself indifferent.

In total, this is an excellent book. Readable and liable to have you thinking. I’m currently halfway through The Plague which is a bit more of a mixed bag in terms of accessibility, but this one is a good pocket read to take in on a day off. In fact, if you have any thoughts on it yourself, I’d love to hear them!

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13. How To Increase Your Page Views

Posts about Blogging increase your view count and thus exposure to other bloggers out there. Through my own experiences I have found that the following are useful checkpoints on the way to success:

  • Be Self-Conscious. Write about your blogging experiences, how to be a successful blogger and challenges bloggers face.
  • Use Pingbacks and Comment extensively.
  • Photography can work too.

Here is an example of how to increase your view count, the number of clicks you receive and your referrals.

8. A Socialist Rises

At 12minutes to 4 on a Monday afternoon, 5th of May 2012, Alex Chistiakov finally arrived at a set of traffic lights near a terminal that would see his bus arrive in just under five minutes, and see him home in another forty. He had muttered obscenities under his breath every step of the way from a job interview that ended ten minutes ago. His feet ached from his quick pace and his jaw was stiff from scowling at young children, pets or anything else that caught his downcast ire as he went.

Never before in his working career had Alex encountered such an extreme level of buffoonery as he had experienced that afternoon. This man had easily spent an hour and a half talking about himself and, when Alex was finally invited to speak, sat there with the contemptuous gaze of a man who genuinely considered himself to be the voice of fourteen million pounds. His attitude smacked of arrogance and the subtext was that only arse-kissers need apply.

“Prick,” spat Alex, for what felt like the hundredth time this afternoon. The mood at the traffic lights was equally as restless. Commuters eager to return home after a long working day vied for space on either side of the road, advancing and retreating in platoons to view the volume of oncoming traffic. Invariably they would decide against a dash for freedom: the distance was too great and the cars too many.

“This,” thought Alex, “is the true face of Capitalism. A man who has no objectives in life beyond earning more money. He will work the hours, he will earn you millions, but he will barely pass the Turing test. Didn’t he ask me about my relationships and goals, only to scoff at them but give no clear answers himself? Say that because I have a loving relationship I am somehow a second-tier citizen, as I can never find the hours to compete in his workplace? That he accused my five-year plan as trite fantasy, whereas his could have been an advert for Google SEOs? This man has no idea what he wants, yet he is the type of man that will decide my future for me. He will ruin my prospects and own my soul.”

The crowd’s eyes collectively widened as a renegade cautiously stepped a few feet beyond the pavement and then walked quickly, but coolly, across the road. Our Lenin took the form of a tall, thin commuter dressed in a slate-grey suit, with black thick-rimmed glasses and a crop of curly black hair. People fell silent as they watched him step gracefully around oncoming vehicles, neither cheering nor condemning his behaviour. Some waited for that first car horn to sound: a signal to other drivers that their prey, no matter how bold, was only human. The rest would then inevitably follow and in a horrendous cacophony of noise chase the revolutionary from the road in a humiliating display of supremacy. Remarkably this didn’t happen. Instead, with a little under halfway to go, he deftly skirted the final approaching vehicle and, dignity still in tact, lightly trotted to our side of the street.

“It wont be long before people decide they’ve had enough of this. On the one hand we have a society tricked into believing the problem is the idleness of our poorest, whereas in fact it’s the Cronyism amongst out richest. This is a recession, yet our leaders have shown more than ever they want to push the same culture that caused this disaster. If they push any harder, it wont be long before people unite, and hit back.”

A man sporting a shell-suit two sizes too small spat a lump of phlegm the size of a golf ball at Alex’s feet. Alex looked up, and was greeted with a vapid, crooked grin.

“That’s it!” He declared out loud. “I’ve had enough! All of you,” he turned to the crowd accusingly, “all of you, as far as I’m concerned, can go to hell! God knows you’ve earned it.” A few people blinked and the rest stared blankly; this type of behaviour isn’t unusual for London. His parthian shot complete Alex turned towards the road, looked once each way, then sprinted to the other side; past the traffic lights, past the bus stop and towards home.

6. A Blogger’s Manifesto

The day I realised my soul wasn’t mine was the day I changed my mind. 

It was a cold, winters morning in a North London Starbucks, so chill that everyone slunk deep into their coats when the doors swung open. I sat in one of the few plush, leather chairs all coffee chains seem to have and suffered the jealous eyes of other customers standing in the queue. They coveted my territory like animals denied mating rights,  visibly wounded by my success and desperate to see me usurped. With my laptop on and coffee in hand it was clear I intended to stay, blogging, as I had been for the last twenty minutes:

Lazy Sunday Thoughts

Is there anything better than a venti mocha, with cream, on a Sunday? Just sitting in Starbucks thinking about the worthy cause of Fairtrade coffee that’s advertised everywhere in here – a perfect way to combat the guilt of a full-fat drink. It means all growers worldwide are ensured a good price for their product,which means no-one is left in poverty. I wasn’t even aware of this cause until *$s [Starbucks] brought it to my attention

I took a sip of said guilt-free drink and felt guilty anyway. The  stamp on the back of my cup conjured images of wearisome plantation workers haggling with corrupt businessmen, jubilant when the Fair Trade Labelling Organisation arrived with UN Bluecaps and offered them bags of money. In reality I didn’t have a clue on whether this was the case or not. Starbucks told me it was true, I believed it, then wrote it.

I took another sip, this one colder than the last. There was a powdery residue of cocoa on my tongue.

This place, not necessarily just Starbucks, but similar venues, was everything it meant to be a writer. Coffee kept me stimulated and the words flowing. The atmosphere was quiet so I could concentrate. The staff were friendly, the food locally and ethically sourced – it was an achievement of modern society that such a place existed to cater for the creative. But I was supposed to be a writer, so then for what was I writing? Most of my topics involved coffee in some way, and a lot of my “musings” were painfully contrived. In this case I admitted to myself that what I wrote could have originated from a Starbucks training pamphlet.

Like the plantation workers, my identity was difficult to sift from the company that informed me of their very existence. They weren’t farmers, but Fairtrade farmers, a logo on a cup and a warm feeling that I was helping the world’s poor whenever I drank. These weren’t people: they were a brand, an identity, and didn’t that make me the same thing? A blogger, like so many others, that formed part of Starbucks’ image as the creative person’s haven?

More cold cocoa. Some cream clung to the side of my lip and was quickly removed with a tongue swipe.

I deleted my initial post, and started again:

A Blogger’s Manifesto

1. A writer of any type has a purpose, whether they want to or not.  If they don’t think they have a purpose, their purpose belongs to somebody else.

2. Writers have a duty to create their own purpose.

3. Writers are obsolete until they prove otherwise, and are of no benefit to anyone unless they do something no-one else can do. This is essential if writing is to be a serious profession and not just a hobby.

Pause. Another sip. Posted.

Now, time for something else. I spent the next two hours writing a job application for Starbucks, citing my gushing praise for the chain over my blogging history as evidence of my enthusiasm. From there, I watch other writers enter the store daily and spend my time observing them. Then I write what I see, each time expanding the Blogger’s Manifesto. 

My aim is to give other people purpose, and I still maintain that my job application is the best post I have made to date.

3. A Bad Dream

I woke-up this morning with that awful, clammy feeling that comes after a bad dream. It’s strange that a person can simultaneously sweat while feeling cold; it just isn’t right at all. I also woke-up on my back, which is another sure indicator my night has took a turn for the worse. Whenever I wake-up on my back I feel exposed to too much of the world in one hit. Instead of opening my eyes and half my vision being obscured by a pillow or some linen so I’m allowed to re-enter life piecemeal, I’m slapped immediately with a big dose of sunshine and reality. I’m glad in a way babies aren’t delivered by stork so they’re spared the same sensation.

Any way, my dream was that I had met one of my younger sister’s friends, although she doesn’t exist. She was attractive with tanned skin and short-ish blonde hair, pleasant and a nice smile. Don’t get the wrong impression though, it wasn’t that type of dream, I was just talking to her out of politeness. I generally prefer to keep to my own business but make an effort for the sake of people I care about, so I have no problem speaking with anybody so that they have a nice time and so my friends/relations are happy to introduce me to people as well. So it went here. We were having a polite conversation, but out of nowhere she made an aside comment to somebody else in the room that made it clear she simply didn’t want to talk to me any more. I can’t remember her reasons, but whatever they were, they really set me off in my dream.

Usually people can say anything they like to me and I’m near impervious to taking personal offence. I think it’s because I approach other people in a very forgiving and empathic way. I could be strapped to a chair as Scientologists put me through one of their initiation grillings, hurling abuse at me, but in my head my thoughts would be this person is just saying these things because they’ve been conditioned that way, and this genuinely works to completely placate me. For this reason, when someone says something disagreeable to me my first reaction is to say “what’s wrong (with you, to make you act this way)?” rather than “what’s wrong (with me, to make someone say something like this to me)?”. This may be slightly arrogant of me, to assume the problem isn’t with me but with the other person, but I’m also lucky as it means my self-confidence is rarely effected by other people.

As if to underline this, when I woke up I composed myself when I remembered how good looking I was. I felt my legs aching from the run I had took the day before (funnily enough, with the same sister whose fictitious friend had shunned me in the dream), remembered  I had muscular legs, then felt better. Funny, eh?

1. Depression

“Except they were just…what’s the word?”

“Counterfeits?”

“Counterfeits! Fakes! I warned him about buying clothes abroad but he wouldn’t listen. Now he owns a wardrobe  full of nothing that’ll probably just disintegrate in a few months.”

Amy heaved a laugh from her chest. It came free of her lungs then bounced through her throat like dry tumbleweed. Mike smiled dozily at her as Sam took a sip of her sparkling wine, ready to change topic.

“Of course house prices are dropping now,” she noted. “Mike and I were considering purchasing somewhere before the chance slipped us by”

Mike’s eyes flickered and his grin spread. As his face became more open his brow contorted, squeezing free a thin rivulet of sweat that dried a quarter inch down his temple. Amy noted his uncanny responsiveness to the conversation and immediately understood the topic was an old one for the two of them. 

“Except that now of course, given the climate, we’re unlikely to find buyers for quite a long time. But it’s important to put something aside for the future, don’t you think?”

Amy smiled and nodded with sincerity. She agreed it was important to consider the future, although it struck her as strange that a house could once be worth so much, and now so little, without having physically changed at all. Even now looking at her two friends, under the harsh overhead lights with their smiles and earnest expressions, she saw how delicate they truly were. A few misplaced words here or an act of nature there could so easily cause their world to cascade into oblivion. Mike and Sam’s sweaty, grinning countenances’ gave them the appearances of melting wax-works, struggling to hold themselves together under a rising sun.  

Depressions occur when we discover our fine clothes are invisible, our houses made of glass and that the friends we always knew to be impermanent reveal themselves as wax mannequins. If we examine the cause of a Depression economically, we see a situation of distrust and uncertainty created through plenty of optimistic thinking and excess. Previously grandiose plans can fold based on a relatively minor event that cascades like a house of cards back into their deck. No-one is prepared to lend to anyone nor take risks, and banks sit around trying to figure out what it is they do own and refuse to move until their basic needs of who they are, what they can do and where they go from their position are established. Sometimes, they need a helping hand from everyone else: the Government. They used to know this information and need to figure it out again soon. If they don’t, they’re open to bankruptcy and nationalisation.

Depressions foster depressed people for much the same reason. Previously their identities were bound with their ever burgeoning lifestyles; their property, their investments, their hopeful outlook on the future, but there is more people can learn from the economic crisis  beyond the message of placing faith in money. People have a tendency to over-inflate themselves as they are forced by society to put their personalities in the hands of something unstable. It may well be that a family are totally content with their daily routine, a city visit on the weekends and quiet nights in, and if so they’re the lucky ones. For others, there is a need to bloat their personalities to match their goals as the road to success can only be travelled at breakneck speed to keep up with everyone else. It’s inevitable there will be several crashes, from which people may or may not recover, but each one means another person gains frustrating moments on you until they crash themselves.

Sometimes, a depression is nice. It’s when you’re stuck on the roadside, the wreckage of your car formed from your history, your plans, your relationships and your ambitions, that you’re forced to take a look around and recognise the world beyond you. Usually it just zips by and you never get to see it, but for a while it’s right there in front of you. You know you can’t stay there for too long, but nonetheless, it’s welcome when it’s otherwise so easy to forget that it exists.