Camus composed and reworked the novel between 1936 and 1938 but then decided not to publish it. It is clearly the precursor to his most famous work, The Stranger, published in 1942. The main character in La mort heureuse is named "Patrice Mersault", similar to The Stranger's main character "Meursault". La mort heureuse was eventually published in 1971, more than 10 years after Camus' death. The English translation by Richard Howard appeared in 1972.
Part 2, titled "Conscious death", follows Mersault's subsequent trip to Europe. Traveling by train from city to city, he is not able to find peace and decides to return to Algiers, to live in a house high above the sea with three young female friends. Everybody here has only one goal: the pursuit of happiness. Yet Mersault needs solitude. He marries a pleasant woman he does not love, buys a house in a village by the sea, and moves in alone. "At this hour of night, his life seemed so remote to him, he was so solitary and indifferent to everything and to himself as well, that Mersault felt he had at last attained what he was seeking, that the peace which filled him now was born of that patient self-abandonment he had pursued and achieved with the help of this warm world so willing to deny him without anger." Severely ill, he dies a happy death: "And stone among the stones, he returned in the joy of his heart to the truth of the motionless worlds."