Existentialist angst with Albert Camus

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Following the centenary of Albert Camus’ birth in November, I thought it was only polite to salute The Outsider (L’Etranger) in my latest article for MyFrenchLife. It’s a great book – a slip of a thing really, so not too intimidating to pick up, and the story unravels in seemingly simple, limpid prose. But get further in, and it all becomes oh-so-meaty and discomforting. I hear it’s a rites-of-passage book for angsty teens. Good choice.

Camus’ book has the dubious honour of being the first French novel I ever managed to read in full (for French A Level). It also nearly drove me to despair: about a week before the exam I realised I still didn’t really have a handle on the book and had no clue what to write about. Then an angel named Mrs Lesley Luckhurst came along and suddenly unlocked the text for me, patiently introducing and explaining Camus’ philosophical ideas, his concept of the Absurd and how the book reflects that. It blew my little mind away – we hadn’t done any philosophy at school. I squinted to see things differently. Meursault [the protagonist] is a Christ-like figure? Huh? Understanding dawned slowly, but luckily the muse descended in time for the exam. Thanks, Mrs. L, if you’re reading this – I’d be up for continuing our chats any time.

 

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‘Like Dickens, but more political’ – reading Les Mis (or not)

I still haven’t finished Hugo’s Les Misérables – and I started it when I was about 13, in the original French (which was, come to think of it, a bit too ambitious for my pre-GSCE lexicon). I do intend to finish it, really I do – and I should, being such a fan of the musical (and now Tom Hooper’s film). You can read my thoughts on both in this piece I wrote for York-based zine One&Other: http://archive.oneandother.com/articles/les-mis-and-me/

My copy of Les Mis

My neat, unthumbed copy of Les Mis