I started reading The Outsider by Albert Camus last night after a not-so-great reading week. It dawned upon me as I started going further in the book that this was about a man, a young bloke who is seemingly unambitious about his life. I instantly wanted to shut the book and stack it away from my reach. While we all know that Camus’s writing is depressing as hell, this book particularly came as a surprise to me. The young man who perhaps mirrors a life most of the people live, subconsciously, mostly to just fill their stomachs, work the grind of eat, sleep, earn money, raise families and then die, here this young man doesn’t seem to have a purpose in living. He works at a small office, is unresponsive to work in the manner that when his boss asks him about shifting to and working in Paris to head operations of their office, he declines the opportunity. The woman who he is friends with asks him if he’ll marry her and he replies saying if she wants marriage he’ll marry her. There is no love, passion, or a burning desire in him to spearhead his life in the way most hot-blooded young people do. He is surrounded by depressing and utterly miserable neighbours, one of whom is an old man with an old species of a dog that keeps barking; another is a frustrated man who keeps a mistress and then gets jitters on spotting a group of Arab men among whom one is the brother of his mistress who might thrash him for ill-treating her. Algiers has a dry hot climate which means the author completely took advantage of the fact that such a depressing setting would naturally have characters who live sorrowful lives. All of this is terribly miserable and I didn’t want to associate this misery into my life especially when I feel the dull rains are already creating a not-so-pleasant atmosphere where I live, putting me into a foul mood for hours at a stretch.
I have never hated the rains with such a dramatic intensity as I am hating it this season. Usually Camus’s writing which I associate with depression anyway, perks up the thinker (if I may say so) in me. I had also begun reading The Plague last month when a friendly bookseller gave his beloved copy to me seeing my love for Camus. I have to write here that even the most dreary landscapes have come alive in my imagination but the ones mentioned in The Plague just refused to get away from my eyes. I dreamt about plague ridden ancient citadels of Rome for weeks at end. Something about ancient cities and their perishing reasons that come down to either geographical or biological upheavals has me interested for a long time. But my reluctance to focus on Camus’s writing in either The Plague or The Outsider has got to do with his basic premises of treating the subjects. As a young woman who looks towards life with passion and soul, I abhorred Mr. Meursault’s character for its lifeless and cold attitude. I might just as well start resenting existential crisis solely for the reason of having read Camus’s extreme characters who don’t fit in society. I know that is the point of his writing but I have this sliver of hope for everyone who shows signs of instability and boredom with their lives that they can shape their existence in a better way if they take it upon themselves rather than giving it up altogether on destiny and fate. I am huge believer in active and sustained course of actions rather than passive submissiveness to problems. It doesn’t help when one reads Camus and decides to compare everything that he so vividly, I must say, paints with his words. They prick and trick us into believing everything he writes to be true. A good writer must be successful at doing so to his readers, but it becomes burdensome when such questions harm us more than solving our existing crisis. For all of Camus’s writing strength, I generally give up his books halfway during my first read and reread them usually after a long time just so to dust away the seeds of misery he seems to be planting in his readers’ minds.
I have seen young readers in their early twenties’ read Camus and I have always wondered at their thoughts about this writer and his depressing take on life and humans. I started reading Camus fairly late in my life, after I turned twenty-five. It also perhaps was good because his hold on sorrow and its depths would have otherwise crushed my senile self in my early reading years. Some writings we must read at an age group when perhaps they are long past their relevance. I certainly don’t regard reading to be a compulsive vocation as a person but it’s always wonderful to have an alternate world of theories where we can dwell as freely as we wish to. The real world often traps our minds and degenerates them with the material availability of possessions, but the reading world opens up channels of vast multiple routes that we can hop into without their implications burdening our souls. This is the reason why Camus is so successful in hammering his readers with a guilt of looking into their behaviour and finding something amiss that tries to shatter their protected bubble of existence. So often, he breaks my anger into different balls of satiated energy that I throw back into the world and announce to my heart and mind that spirits once ignited are hard to extinguish by mere mortals.