One of the sources of inspiration for my novel, Borderliners, was the 1942 novel by Albert Camus, The Outsider (or The Stranger in some translations).
The alien feeling the novel evokes is very powerful. Camus himself said his protagonist
is condemned because he does not play the game.
My protagonist, Elena Lewis, is also an outsider. Having arrived in her isolated village eighteen months earlier to set herself up as a psychotherapist to the local community, she finds she is unable to integrate.
Having experienced this three times in my own life – once in a small town in the Home Counties when I was a child, once in Northern Germany during a sandwich year as a student and once more recently as an adult – I feel that some people are destined to be city dwellers, preferring the anonymous transience and comforting unity brought about by the idea of being an outsider in a wider community of outsiders. This, of course, makes you an insider of sorts.
But being a real outsider in a small community is no joke.
Elena’s character traits make it more difficult for her to integrate: she’s independent, self contained but also highly introspective and suffers bouts of depressive illness. The combination of these traits make it difficult for those on the inside to either understand or reach out to her. They think, she doesn’t need anyone.
All the lonely people
In a society where more than one in four of us lives in a singleton household and where those of who do live with family often remain isolated in other, more subtle ways, the idea of the outsider was an important one for me. Appearances are deceptive. More people are out the outside than we imagine. As philosopher Henry David Thoreau said,
‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’
Elena doesn’t play the game either and quickly finds herself up against those who have the rest of the village dancing to their tune. Going against the grain carries punishment, sometimes subtle, sometimes harsh.