L’Etranger (The Outsider), by Camus, is generally reckoned to be one of the greatest French novels of the twentieth century, and probably the most famous work to come out of the existentialist movement. It explores classic existentialist themes of alienation, nihilism and the meaninglessness and absurdity of life; set in colonial French Algeria, its protagonist, Meursault, commits a random act of violence – murdering a local Arab man on the beach – which leads to his imprisonment and execution, but almost to the end remains an impassive, unemotional figure who refuses to conform to society’s expectations by showing remorse for his crime, and faces the prospect of death without the artificial comfort of religious belief; he goes to the guillotine convinced, finally, of the universe’s indifference to man.
Taking the BBC’s online “7 days 7 questions” news quiz, I discovered that President Bush had apparently read “L’Etranger” on holiday this year. It’s no easy task to distil these grand and difficult themes into a small text box for a light-hearted news quiz.
But the BBC did summarize it, in a way that only one with Bush Derangement Syndrome could, by making it about the President reading a book about a white man killing an Arab for no clear reason. Follow the links to read the BBC’s quiz. (Hat tip to Larwyn).