Anne-Sophie at UEA

An International Student of Literature in England.

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

If you’ve read Camus (or my blog), you will recognise the title of the novel I’ve reviewing today: Meursault is the famous protagonist of The Outsider — a novel I adore. If you don’t know it you can have a look at my review, here.

In a nutshell, The Outsider is the story (or diary? Who really writes it? When?) of a French Algerian who kills an unknown man on the beach for no reason (he blames the sun) after his mother’s death. The second Kafkaesque part of the novel focuses on his trial and on the crime Meursault is really accused of: his lack of emotions at his mother’s funerals. Although Meursault and The Outsider have become symbols of existentialism (for more existentialism, read Sartre) and of the absurd, Camus’s novel is primarily the story of a French Algerian who kills an unnamed  “arab”. Beyond the problematic of (absence of) remorse and guilt, Daoud’s novel stresses a more pressing issue — that of colonialism.

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Despite both novel being intrinsically linked, establishing their relationship isn’t easy: what is Daoud’s novel and how should we read it? Is it a sequel to The Outsider? A retelling? A discussion? A borrowing? I like to think of it as a parallel

The Meursault Investigation (Meursault, contre-enquête) was published in Algeria in French in 2013. I was very excited about it and liked the idea of studying it alongside Camus but to be honest, I was extremely disappointed. I’m still not sure whether we should read it as fiction or as a weird-confusing-awkward reflection on the “bigger” themes of The Outsider (colonialism, the relationship between France and Algeria, the behaviour of pieds-noirs — the French Algerians). 

The starting point is interesting: the “arab” was nameless and therefore completely dehumanized. The novel is therefore the story of the “arab”‘s brother who, firstly, wants to make his brother’s name to be known by the public. We then follow him in his quest for answers regarding the crime and Meursault himself. The narrator wants to uncover the truth and re-establish the dignity of the “arab”. It becomes an obsession that haunts him throughout his entire life to the point of recreating the scenes from The Outsider and even committing a crime. 

Thinking about it more, there were very interesting passages and themes such as the relationship between (a completely toxic) mother and son, how to survive “death” (his brother’s) and how to live with this ghost or trauma. For these reasons, The Meursault Investigation reminded me of Toni Morrison’s Beloved which I studied for several weeks last year in Reading Texts 2. But on the other hands, there were the constant repetitions and I could not stand the narrative style. I don’t know if it’s because of the translation (I didn’t have time to look at the original version) or if it’s just the style but it’s not for me. My biggest problem with the novel is that it didn’t really go anywhere. I get the point but… not really. It was too repetitive and even pointless (yes — I dare to proclaim such a thing). 

I’d much rather have read a pretentious critical essay on colonialism in Camus’s novel.

If you want to read a good book, just pick The Outsider or any other of Camus’s pieces. One book I really want to read because it came up several times in the lecture and seminar is The Myth of Sisyphus… whenever I find the time! 

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