"The Stranger/The Fall" by Albert Camus (1942 and 1956)
"That evening Marie came by to see me and asked me if I wanted to marry her. I said it didn't make any difference to me and that we could if she wanted to. Then she wanted to know if I loved her. I answered the same way I had the last time, that it didn't mean anything but that I probably didn't love her. 'So why marry me, then?' she said. I explained to her that it didn't really matter and that if she wanted to, we could get married. Besides, she was the one doing the asking and all I was saying was yes. Then she pointed out that marriage was a serious thing. I said, 'No.' She stopped talking for a moment and looked at me without saying anything."
Albert Camus was a French writer who grew up in Algeria. He is best known for his novel The Plague, reviewed here about 9 months ago, and for The Stranger, which forms one of the two novels/novellas in this collection. The Stranger was first published in 1942, when Camus was a member of the French Resistance, while The Fall was published 14 years after.
As one might expect from a writer of Camus' versatility, the two books couldn't be more different. The Stranger describes the consequences of a murder, while The Fall is more of a commentary on human nature. The Stranger examines the right (or lack thereof) of an individual to stray from societal norms, while The Fall is the story of a man who ascends to the very heights of society, only to find this society hollow and unfulfilling. The two stories compliment one another nicely.
I really enjoyed The Stranger and its misanthropic protagonist, but it was The Fall that really spoke to me. At times I had the feeling that the narrator was speaking to me directly, about my own condition. It is a very philosophical story - and the narrator of this story is very up front about the fact. The Stranger is more subtle, more muted, and has a more ambiguous case to make.
Both The Stranger and The Fall are, by the way, much easier reading than The Plague. Where The Plague comes on like a funeral dirge, The Stranger and The Fall exhibit a lighter touch, and aren't nearly as depressing. The Plague is also a story about a group of people, whereas both The Stranger and The Fall are about individuals, and their struggles with a larger culture.
This collection is excellent, and I heartily recommend it.