“When I look at my life and its secret colors, I feel like bursting into tears. Like that sky. It’s rain and sun both, noon and midnight. You know, Zagreus, I think of the lips I’ve kissed, and of the wretched child I was, and of the madness of life and the ambition that sometimes carries me away. I’m all those things at once. I’m sure there are times when you wouldn’t even recognize me. Extreme in misery, excessive in happiness—I can’t say it.”
The first time that I ever read that paragraph I was in college, probably around 19 or 20 years old, probably feeling incredibly angsty, and I thought Oh my god he KNOWS me this is AMAZING. It’s more impressive because Camus himself was only 20 when he wrote it… it’s for reasons like this that I eventually stopped writing. There is just no way–no way at all–that I could do it like this. Anyway, more to the point. A Happy Death is Camus’ first novel, found among private papers, and while I usually have some qualms about these sorts of things (that is, posthumously publishing things that aren’t finished) I’m very glad that we were able to have the opportunity to read this.
A Happy Death is inevitably going to suffer comparisons to The Stranger, because it does share a lot of similarities. Its protagonist, Patrice Merseult, seems as though he almost shares a name with the progagonist of The Stranger, both men are Algerian clerks, both men kill another man in cold blood and don’t seem to suffer emotional consequences from it. Both are obviously existentialist classics. There the similarities end. A Happy Death is more concerned with man’s ability to will himself to happiness–Merseult lives a rather empty life before coming into contact with the cripple Zagreus, and his decision to kill the man, steal his money, and move on to his own happiness bears little consequences.
In the end, Merseult is able to achieve his happy death. The road that he takes there is punctuated with some of the most beautiful descriptions of Algeria, the sea, and women; this is really just a stunning portrait of where Camus’ mind was at age 20 (and I’m still envious). A Happy Death stands on its own as a tiny but impactful novel.
EDITED TO ADD:
Hello, North Seattle Community College. In case you were wondering, no, my casual reading blog is not as credible as MIT coursework or the “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” What a fucking stupid assignment.