‘The Meursault Investigation’ by Kamel Daoud (2013) – 143 pages
Translated from the French by John Cullen
A couple of years ago I wrote an article about the novel ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus on this site which you can find here. Algerian writer Kamel Daoud has written a “Reply” novel to ‘The Stranger’ called ‘The Meursault Investigation’ which won the 2015 Goncourt Prix for first novel.
In ‘The Stranger’ Albert Meursault shoots and kills “an Arab”. He is imprisoned and tried for this heinous crime.
Why is this Arab who figures so dramatically in ‘The Stranger’ given no name? That is the central question of ‘The Meursault Investigation’ which is narrated by the Arab’s brother.
In ‘The Meursault Investigation’ we early learn that the Arab’s name is Musa. We find out how his murder affected his mother as well as his seven-year-old brother Harun who now tells this story seventy years later.
Whereas ‘The Stranger’ is cool and detached, cold even, ‘The Meursault Investigation’ is emotional and heated. Albert Camus himself summarized ‘The Stranger’ with the following remark: “In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.” The main issue at Meursault‘s trial appears to be his reserve and lack of feeling at his mother’s funeral rather than the murder itself. Meursault views the murder as a result of his being disoriented by the sun. The murder is nearly a side issue to him, but that still does not pardon Camus from not giving the Arab a name. Surely Meursault would have learned the name of his victim after the murder and should not always have to refer to him as “the Arab”. The worst case would be that Camus himself was dismissive of Meursault’s murderous act because the victim was only “the Arab”. In 1942 Algeria was a French colony, and that may have been a common colonial attitude.
By 1962, Algeria gained its independence from France. Many remaining French people left their homes in a hurry, and Harun and his mother move into a house vacated by a French family. During that time, Harun murders a Frenchman who does have a name.
This murder is not the only scene that mirrors ‘The Stranger’. There is also the story of Musa and Harun’s mother. In fact the first line of ‘The Meursault Investigation’ is “Mama’s still alive today” which mirrors the first line of ‘The Stranger’.
Kamel Daoud would have built a stronger case if he had dealt with the fact that in ‘The Stranger’ the two Arabs stabbed Meursault’s friend Raymond in the arm and mouth in a confrontation before the murder. Earlier Raymond had beat up his Arab girlfriend, and the Arabs responded with violence. Certainly Raymond had it coming, but still that fact should have been discussed explicitly in ‘The Meursault Investigation’.
I suppose at some point the two novels ‘The Stranger’ and ‘The Meursault Investigation’ will be sold as a package so readers will get the entire story of both Albert Meursault and his victim.