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The Meursault Investigation

by Kamel Daud
Reviewed by Stephen Kaye

Every schoolboy or girl has read Albert Camus’ The Stranger.  It’s a perfect book for exploring all kinds of questions about what it means, what it’s about and why was it written.  It is one of the most read novels of the twentieth century and it’s an easy read. The language is distilled simplicity, honed to a hard core of direct speech. The story is told with the utmost clarity and directness.  It is compelling, powerful and deeply disturbing.  It leaves the reader unsatisfied.  It’s not a happy ending; it’s not happy at all. It raises the uncomfortable question: What if there is no God, what then?   

Camus was born in Algeria when Algeria was a colony of France, although the French declared that it was part of France.  It produced much of the vin ordinaire consumed by the French. The Algerian French were called “pieds noir.” They had a strained relationship with the native Arabic peoples. Camus wrote The Stanger in 1943. The victim in that book was “an Arab”, unnamed and unknown to the first person.  Algeria gained its independence after a bloody war of independence in 1962. 

Kamel Daoud is an Algerian journalist who was inspired by The Stranger to write a novel from the point of view of the unnamed victims’s brother.  He calls it The Meursault Investigation,  Mersault being the name of the first person in The Stranger.  To Algerians the French were the strangers. The first person in Daud’s book is also a stranger, an outsider, who shares many traits with Meursault.  He is consumed by his brother’s death. He and his mother are mirror images of Meursasult and his mother.  They are almost the same, although they are Algerians. The first person is, like Mersault, without belief.  God has not touched him.  Death has touched him and left a deep impression. In the end, he offers a concise account of the mindset of a suicide bomber. Death is embraced. It is not a religious purpose, but a state of mind.  

The Meursault Investigation is more a meditation on Camus’ The Stranger than a novel with a story line.  The two stories are so tightly entwined that they can’t be pried apart.  The second needs the first.  It is however, a novel form with a distinct voice, a big scope, a timely introspection into the Algerian and perhaps modern Muslim-Arab consciousness.  Unlike The Stranger, the author is not moving to a fixed point.  The point is ambivalent; the reader is left with a neat package, but he is not sure what is inside.  It, like its forerunner, leaves us with unanswered questions.  But we understand something we did not understand before.  We know who the Algerians are, and what they suffered.       - SCK 

The Meursault Investigation was translated from the French by John Cullen, who resides in Millbrook. It was in stock at Merritt Bookstore when we last looked.