Albert Camus, The outsider (1942 / 1982 English translation)
This short novel had a profound affect on me when I first read it as a teenager (more than 30 years ago). And still does after multiple re-readings.
It begins with perfect indifference.
Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.
To Meursault, it doesn’t matter when. She is dead. And Meursault lives on in the sensual experience of now, without reflection or any attempt to find meaning or reason for events and the actions of people. Yes, he is different. Almost autistic. Without understanding how or why, he commits an unconscious, irredeemable act that … destroyed the balance of the day and the perfect silence of this beach where I’d been happy.
Despite being arrested for murder, Meursault feels no remorse because he does not equate his (or anybody’s) actions with sin or guilt. He still experiences the world, his world now altered, sensually: … I recognised the familiar smells and colours of a summer evening. […] What always awaited me then was a night of easy, dreamless sleep. And yet something had changed […] As if a familiar journey under a summer sky could as easily end in prison as in innocent sleep.
The trial judge nicknames him Mr Antichrist. The prosecutor deems that he is without a soul. And in a way that is true: he is without a Christian soul because he refuses to believe or even consider belief in God or Christ or divine mercy. For this reason alone (and not the murder) is he sentenced.
The final, chilling sentences are an existential slap in the face of Christian society:
As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realised that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy. For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.
What else have I been reading? See INFLUENCES.