Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Happy Death by Ambert Camus - a review

A Happy DeathA Happy Death by Albert Camus

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Camus' A Happy Death is presented as "May be read as a preamble to The Stranger" (The Stranger, being one of my favorite books).

So, where shall I begin?

There are, undoubtedly, very strong similarities between A Happy Death and The Stranger. As a reader, I could view A Happy Death as a hint of what The Stranger would be. After all, both books feature a protagonist named Mersault, both books deal with death, and both books deal with a character who is, in a way, unaffected by the world that surrounds him.

As a writer, I should view A Happy Death as an incomplete The Stranger. An attempt to put forth ideas expressed in the latter, a writing that is not as good as Camus' later works, a writing that dances around more than takes you towards the destination, a writing where metaphors and side stories are used excessively and distract more than add to the text. For the writer here struggles at times to be concise and on point, and there seems to be an unnecessary array of poetic prose which does nothing for the text at large.

Academia, however (and especially the Afterword) disagrees with my views from both of the above angles. Having been both the benefactor and the victim of readers' (and academia) interpretations of my own texts, I must admit that the academia often looks for hidden meanings in anything which does not follow a clear path or the established ideas of who a writer is. Nevertheless, as a writer, I must acknowledge that, at times, instances and incidents just are random. So, I largely disagree with the academia when it comes to interpreting literature, as it often writes more theses and books about a book than the author himself/herself.

But I shall approach Camus' A Happy Death as neither a reader nor a writer. Instead, I shall approach it as a thinker. (How dare I call myself that?)

A Happy Death consists of two books: The Natural Death, and The Conscious Death.

In The Natural Death we meet Mersault, a man whose mother passed away, who works a lousy job, rents the empty rooms in his house to derelict individuals, and stays in the room that used to be his mother's. Mersault is a vain individual who does not really care about anything (on the surface) a dates a girl because he enjoys the attention he receives when they are out together. It would have been fine, except, he is also jealous. He makes her talk about her past lovers, and she introduces him to Zagreus, her ex-lover who is now crippled.

This book opens interestingly, with its ending, followed by a flashback of sorts where the circumstances leading to Mersault's crime are explained. It comes full circle quite nicely, and we learn a great deal about Mersault, his life, and his state of mind. The language itself has a raw quality to it, matching well with the theme. There were times when I enjoyed The Natural Death more than The Stranger, as it seems more real, more thought-through.

In The Conscious Death, Mersault appears on the scene in Prague, and with a completely different mindset. He is growing derelict, both in his appearance and in his inner state of mind. He is becoming a haunted human being seeking a meaning to his life. Through a series of travels, he eventually ends back in Algiers where he finds himself, and, in the end, finds a happy death.

This book did not satisfy my cravings for more Camus. It is more fragmented, and, at times, appears unnecessarily distracted with snippets of poetic verse that add little to the character himself. Mersault grows tormented, abandons civilization, and then longs for it again. He makes inconsistent choices (and not in the 'unreliable narrator' way). He is at once a hedonist and a puritan, talkative and silent, a seeker who is blind. There were choices that did not sit well with me, and, personally, I felt the build-up to the conclusion (which came at random) was rather drawn-out. All in all, The Conscious Death was an interesting exercise in thinking about the complicated human nature, but it did not live up to the expectations.

Compared to Camus' later works, A Happy Death seems unfisnished (to this reader). It was still worth the read, but not likely a reread any time soon.

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