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A Happy Death Paperback – August 29, 1995

4.1 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

From the Inside Flap

In his first novel, A Happy Death, written when he was in his early twenties and retrieved from his private papers following his death in I960, Albert Camus laid the foundation for The Stranger, focusing in both works on an Algerian clerk who kills a man in cold blood. But he also revealed himself to an extent that he never would in his later fiction. For if A Happy Death is the study of a rule-bound being shattering the fetters of his existence, it is also a remarkably candid portrait of its author as a young man.
As the novel follows the protagonist, Patrice Mersault, to his victim's house -- and then, fleeing, in a journey that takes him through stages of exile, hedonism, privation, and death -it gives us a glimpse into the imagination of one of the great writers of the twentieth century. For here is the young Camus himself, in love with the sea and sun, enraptured by women yet disdainful of romantic love, and already formulating the philosophy of action and moral responsibility that would make him central to the thought of our time.
Translated from the French by Richard Howard
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (August 29, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679764003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679764007
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on August 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
It's been written about "A Happy Death" that Camus' unpublished first novel was brilliantly written, and terrible organized. It's hard to deny that the novel may have some structure problems, but it's hard to care when it's written so beautifully. Philosophically, it hints at topics Camus would explore later (exile, suicide, rebellion and of course, the absurd). Even young Camus had a way with words, and although like the existentialist of his time he had a way of telling dark and depressing tales, he manages to write with an emphasis on the simple pleasures of life. Whether he's describing the act of bathing in the sun or savoring food items he has a way of making the reader want to live and experience life, for better or worse, to the fullest. "A Happy Death", in a literary sense, doesn't even come close to the heights of The Stranger (with which it bares many similarities) or The Plague (my personal favorite) but one really can't complain about a novel capable of reaffirming how beautiful (yet absurd) life can be.
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Format: Paperback
In "A Happy Death", Camus took a different approach to writing what later became "The Stranger". The latter work is famous (and sometimes despised) for it terse, efficient prose, its brutal frankness, and its avoidance of moral consideration. As a result, many readers do not know what to make of Merseault and often mistake him for a psychopath. In "A Happy Death", Camus writes in the third person and adds considerably more elements to the story. The ending also differs from "The Stranger".
In "The Stranger", Merseault kills an Arab for no apparent reason other than caprice or irritability. Merseault is then put on trial and condemned more for his flagrant aversion to bourgeois hypocrisy than for the crime he committed.
But in "A Happy Death", Merseault's crime had a clearer motive and a deeper symbolism. Merseault kills his crippled friend Zagreus in order to obtain his wealth and use it to transform his otherwise mundane life. In Greek mythology, Zagreus was torn apart by the Titans but Zeus was able to give his still beating heart to his daughter who later fathered Dinoysis, the god of wine. Zagreus literally means "torn apart" in Greek. The myth of Zagreaus is comparable to the role of Christ in the Christian tradition because Zagreus was mocked, tortured, and executed. But unlike Christ, Zagreaus escaped the final humiliation by having a substitute take his place.
Camus re-appropriates this legend in "A Happy Death". The wheelchair bound Zagreaus essentially prompts Merseault to murder him so that he can escape the humiliation of his infirmity and pass his wealth on to Merseault. There are subtle indications that the two men are inextricably bound to each other.
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Format: Paperback
I am a sophmore in high school at the moment and I read this book when I was in eighth grade. At that time I was very depresed and unhappy. I don't mean I was on the verge of suicide but I was just very gloomy. Then my english teacher told us we had to read a novel of our choosing and keep a journal on it. For some reason I choose this book. I had only read one of Camus's short stories: THE GUEST and that did not prepare me for the beauty of A HAPPY DEATH. I had never read anything of such raw unmitigated emotion! Camus tossed feelings around like jugglers do balls! When I had finished I felt at peace with myself for the first time in a year and a half. I urge everyone to read this book. Granted, there are structural problems but who cares! All that is left to say is: Thank you Albert! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
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Camus' book "A Happy Death" was never published in his lifetime. Camus was very specific and deliberate as to when he would publish what. This novel, the first written by Camus, has been published after being reclaimed from his papers.
The question that comes to mind then, is "Why did Camus never publish this work?" It seems that the book was a transitional writing for Camus. It allowed him to move forward from the life he had always thought about, to the life he believed he lived in, that being an "existential" existence.
In reading the book, one finds that Mersault, the protagonist, seems to have too many moments of happiness as compared to other protagonists in Camus' other publications. This in fact, is probably an autobiographical reflection of Camus' early life, and the book, a work to allow him to metamorphosize, transform his vision into what came next, "The Stranger."
The beauty of the novel is recognizing this transition and then, with such recognition, comes the ability to apply those thought patterns and feelings to Camus' later works, seeing how he transformed from a "regular" human being, to an "existentialist" one who has the feeling of being unique, and apart from others and the world around him.
The book gives valuable insight into Camus' mental process as he moves from where he was, to where he will go. For Camus readers, the book is truly a MUST. And for anyone with an interest in the "Existential" genre, it is truly an enlightening piece of literature.
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