Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If It's a Happy Death You Want, Assisted Suicide Probably Not the Way To Go

So, Albert Camus's A Happy Death isn't all that happy of a book.  Go figure.  With the word "Death" right there in the title, capitalized and everything, and a work of Camus, the third of his five novels I have read (The Stranger and The Plague before it), I wasn't exactly shocked when things don't exactly go/end well.  Basically a preview of The Stranger, the novel features a guy named Marsault (similar to The Stranger's Meursault) who commits a weird unmotivated murder (though it is sort of an assisted suicide), starts out living a boring and unhappy life, has a bunch of relationships he would classify as meaningless, autistically despises social norms, and is pretty much indifferent to everything.  But he finds happiness.  Throughout this book, the most important thing in life is "the will to happiness."  However, other things are also necessary, for example time and money.  Time is the most important because one needs it to be able to find their true calling, which is basically doing nothing.  To be a bump on a log though, one needs money.  I hear that.  

This is where the murder comes in, happening at the beginning of the work though chronologically speaking it takes place in the middle.  Marsault kills an invalid who all but asks him to do it after he has taught the protagonist the secret to happiness, which he cannot partake in because he lost his legs, and ends up taking enough cash to live out his days comfortably.  For the rest of the book he learns to do just that, finally living it out just before he dies a horrible death delivered via tuberculosis.  Ah the irony.  

After finishing the novel, I described it thusly: "typical Camus, existential bullshit."  Yep, life is pretty absurd.  Camus always makes that pretty clear.   But then again, Camus's work usually ends up being sort of uplifting, despite how bleak everything is on the surface level, because it teaches us the need the importance of living instead of droning on half dead.  And believe it or not, A Happy Death is one of the author's happier novels in that it shows that his protagonist knows how to enjoy life in a way that we wouldn't consider too socially repulsive or anything. While The Stranger is the better book, in a strange way, A Happy Death actually illustrates that suicide isn't a logical option because we always have that ability to create our own joy, though we require enough time and money to do so.  In his own words, Camus wanted us to use "our money to gain time," instead of using "up our lives making money."  If only we could all afford the time.

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