Monday, November 16, 1998

The Stranger

by Alfred Camus
translated by Matthew Ward

I continue to find that I still identify very closely with the existentialists and absurdists, and that my fascination in high school was not just a phase.  I identify very much with Meursault, the protagonist of this story; although I certainly can’t see myself allowing evil to become so contagious so quickly, I can see how the world sort of takes us up in its series of events, and things simply happen without us intending them to.  The way in which his girlfriend, Marie, for example, asked him to marry her, and his indifference to the idea either way, struck me as startlingly familiar.  The book says so much in what it doesn’t say: the terse, laconic style speaking pages about Mersault’s state of mind, how he takes everything at face value and sees no need to dissimulate about the world, or make false pretenses.  The theme of man’s helplessness in the face of the world’s absurdity comes through in a much more stark fashion, perhaps more so than in “The Trial,” because of Mersault’s failure to panic and his dismissal of hope.  Quite a profound and moving book in its few pages.

four stars

Sunday, November 1, 1998

The Man In the Iron Mask

by Alexandre Dumas
edited and annotated by David Coward, from an older translation

Well, the mammoth saga of the once-invincibles comes to a rather sad end. Porthos dies because his strength gives out. Aramis flees France in disgrace because his schemes come to ruin. And Athos dies because the one thing dearer to him to God, his son, leaves his company to go die in the Africa campaigns under the Duke of Beaufort. And d’Artagnan – well, d’Artagnan’s star does not decline under the sun king, but that’s only because this once so haughty Gascon spirit humbles itself rather abjectly before the iron will of Louis (chapter 81, simply and appropriately titled “King Louis XIV”). I have one complaint with this action-packed adventure, during which in the course of 570 pages the suspense hardly slackens. Why did Aramis, General of the Jesuits, master planner always with an out at his disposal, admit defeat instantly when Fouquet announced he would denounce him? Up to that point, Fouquet had been a pawn of Aramis. Suddenly, Aramis had to flee for his life on the word alone of Fouquet. Well, maybe it was the onset of age that weakens Aramis’ resolve.