Three more book reviews... 1. "The Stranger" (or "The Outsider") by Albert Camus <http://www.amazon.com/Stranger/dp/0679720200> Set in Algeria before World War II, the narrator, a Frenchman named Meursault, tells how he came to kill another man, go to trial and get sentenced to death. The story starts with Meursault being informed of his mother's death. He attends the funeral, but shows no outward sign of grief. In fact, the next day he keeps a date with his girlfriend to go see a comedy. Later, he gets embroiled in the affairs of a "friend" (a local pimp), resulting in the murder of an Arab. He is arrested and held in custody. At his trial, Meursault's response to his mother's death are used by the prosecutor to paint a damning picture of the accused. This novel is considered a classic of existentialism writing. According to the author (Albert Camus), it's about a man who is condemned because he doesn't "play the game". By that he means that Meursault refuses to hide his feelings and society thus feels threatened. Meursault is an outsider or stranger, by his own will. He willingly remains detached from others, including his own mother and girlfriend. This detachment reminded me a little of Dino in "Boredom" (by Alberto Moravia). But Meursault has become so detached that, after having killed someone, he didn't feel regret, but rather he felt "annoyed" that it happened. Had Meursault shown some remorse, his lawyer could have possibly argued that it was as an act of self-defence. On the other hand, Meursault could've avoided the situation entirely - it was not his quarrel. Like "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, this story looks into the reactions of a person who has committed a crime. In "Crime and Punishment" I felt some compassion for Raskolnikov, even though his crime was obviously premeditated. At least he appeared to feel some remorse, and tried to redeem himself by helping a family in need. In this book, the crime may not have been premeditated, but the killer is completely unrepentant and disinterested in seeking any redemption. It's impossible to like the character. His detachment is so extreme that he is almost like a zombie. Meursault's philosophy seems to be that life, death and love are meaningless. He rejects religion and any type of morality. Fortunately, not everyone shares this view. Overall, it's a thought-provoking novel, but beware that there's not a lot of joy in it. It made me feel uneasy from the beginning to the end. Fortunately, at a little over 100 pages, it's not a long novel. Trivia: Apparently, The Cure's song "Killing an Arab" was inspired by this novel. 2. "Keep the Aspidistra Flying" by George Orwell <http://www.amazon.com/Keep-Aspidistra-Flying/dp/0156468999> This is one of the earlier, lesser-known works of George Orwell, author of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" and "Animal Farm". Unlike those overtly political classics, this story comes across as rather more down-to- earth. Set in London in the 1930s, it's the story of Gordon Comstock, a wannabe poet who has deliberately passed up opportunities of secure, good-paying work to concentrate on his poetry. He'd rather earn a subsistence wage working in a bookshop rather than sell out his principles. Like Meursault in "The Stranger", he doesn't want to play the game. In this case, it's the game of being a model economic citizen. He's declared war on the "money god". It seems he wants to struggle for his art. The problem is, his art seems to be struggling more than the artist. A well-to-do editor of a Socialist magazine tries to prop Gordon up by publishing his meagre work. Pride prevents Gordon from accepting more obvious financial help (from the editor). However pride does not get in the way of Gordon occasionally sponging off his even more desperate, but hard-working, sister. Gordon has a girlfriend (Rosemary), who is more interested in his financial well-being than he is himself. But when Rosemary gets pregnant, Gordon is faced with a major decision: should he take up a job offer with an advertising firm to help support Rosemary and their child, or should he abandon them, stick to his principles and continue his seemingly futile efforts as a poet? Although the plot doesn't suggest it, this is actually quite an amusing novel. It's almost like a semi-autobiographical parody of Orwell's own struggles as an emerging author. By the way, an aspidistra is a type of plant, apparently popular among the middle-class households in London at the time. For Gordon it represents a symbol of normalcy and respectability, concepts he despises. 3. "An Iliad: A Story of War" by Alessandro Baricco <http://www.amazon.com/Iliad-Baricco/dp/0307275396> This novel is by the author of some books I've enjoyed, including "Ocean Sea" and "Silk". Based on Homer's ancient epic poem the "Iliad", this is an abbreviated, modernised version, written in prose. I haven't read the original, but I'm familiar with many of the stories within it: the abduction of Helen by Paris from her Greek husband, the Trojan War, the heroes (Achilles, Odysseus, Hector and so on), and the rival kings (Agamemnon and Priam). All these elements are present in this version, along with the Trojan Horse and the end of the war. These later events were not in Homer's original "Iliad", but they were mentioned during a flashback in the sequel, the "Odyssey". Including them help bring this version to a more self-contained conclusion. This version was motivated by a need for a shortened adaptation suitable for a public reading. The author achieved this by removing some repetition, and de-emphasising the discussions and intrusions of the Olympic gods into the story. However it's more faithful to the original than the recent movie epic "Troy". How successful the author has been will always be a matter for debate. Not having read the original, I cannot say how many nuances have been lost. I found some of the battle scenes a bit tedious, basically being a list of who killed who. But overall it was quite satisfying, and easy to read. It should also be noted that I read the English translation of Baricco's Italian adaptation, which in turn was based on a complete Italian prose translation of the Homer's ancient Greek poem.