I've held out from reviewing outright philosophical fiction… well, that is a misnomer, but fiction written from those more famed as philosophers than authors of fiction, but I suppose all you always have to begin somewhere so here goes:
I've read a lot of work by Camus, this isn't all of it, but it is two of his fictional works that are either well known or should be.
The Stranger [L'Etranger]
This is probably Camus' most famous work, it was also what got me seriously interested in philosophy. I warn you, as it was my first philosophical text, it is more of a sentimental and personal reflection on the book rather than an outright objective criticism. Now, I initially read it in French and while I pride myself on being somewhat bilingual, I still have a limited grasp of the language and back when I read it, hardly out of elementary, it was even more limited. As such when I initially read it in French, the language struck me as very poetic and I missed out on a great many details, the entire novel, felt tragic and strange and beautiful. The protagonist was a man crushed in a world he could not control and expressed it in the wonderful narration. As I grew older and I got my hands on a proper translation, I saw rather simple English, short sentences, and gave the protagonist an air of apathy rather than mourning. Re-reading the French, it is clear that this is not a fluke or a loss to translation. On an intellectual level I found it fascinating how this apathy changed my image of the Hero so greatly from a victim to someone closer to what the prosecutors implied, but in many ways the beauty was lost. He was no longer a tragic victim. He was, certainly, still a victim but rather than a sympathetic man trapped in a world of harsh indifference, he was an indifferent man trapped in a world of filled with people holding absurd sentiments. In some ways this apathy and loss of human feeling to the sociopathy of everyday life, makes him more human and that alone gives it a certain value but it has lost the romantic airs that initially made me love it so. But, I still feel as though the entire novel is worth reading for his final speech to the audience, perhaps even more poignant now that you understand the sort of man he is.
The Just Assassins [Les Justes]
As Nerd42 pointed out the dialectic in Star Trek between the American Right, Camus in The Just Ones [It has like eighty titles, this one is my favourite] manages to create a revolutionary dialect. Revolution for Camus was a major topic throughout his life, an understandable concern in the turbulent Europe of the Second World War and early Cold War, while he has essays and articles that make very interesting points on the subject, I find that the Just Ones is the probably the most poignant.
The year is 1905, Tsarist Russia. A small cell of Terrorists prepare to assassinate the Grand Duke. It opens with the reintroduction of Stepan, who was exiled to Switzerland and has vowed to never rest until the Tsar is over thrown, that "Freedom is a prison as long as just one man on Earth is enslaved". Shortly after the protagonist is introduced to the crowd and Stephan. He is Yanek, nicknamed "the Poet" amongst the group. Yanek is given the bomb.
Stepan's brutality and dogmaticism is contrasted beautifully with Yanek's love of life. If I had to pick two lines to sum up the their conflict it would be:
Annenkov (laughing): Yanek wouldn't say so. He says that poetry is revolutionary.
Stephan: Only bombs are revolutionary.
The "Poet" lives up to his nickname, painting some of the most poignant pictures and forcing one to ask what can truly be gained playing into the old games of Realpolitiks. If you are a leftist or an idealist of an sort, this is probably one of the most quotable plays you will ever find, even Stephan's quotes are moving [if dark]. The cast is interesting and unique, comprising of the each one worthy of their own tale:
The Poet, himself is the picture of a revolution fought on the ideals of love. He struggles with the idea of reconciling this revolutionary love of life with the willingness to murder.
Stepan is dark but wonderful glimpse into the mind of extremists who truly are willing to sacrifice everything for their cause, played in such a way that he is relatable and one might find him in many people you know and, at least in part, in yourself.
Dora is the Love Interest, torn between the two views, once an idealist but slowly sliding into Stephan's border line sociopathy.
Alexei finds himself unable to kill for the revolution and accuses himself of cowardice.
Finally there is Boris, a fatherly sort of leader forced to send his friends and companions on suicide missions for the sake of the revolution.
The most interesting fact, is that amongst them only one character is fictional. Not Yanek, as you might assume but Stepan, who some believe is supposed to be an allegory for Sartre's views.
Each of the characters is compelling, the dialogue is beautiful and the subject is profoundly interesting regardless of your political or philosophical persuasion.