The Meursault Investigation
In Camus’ classic novel The Stranger, eerily disaffected protagonist Meursault shoots an ‘Arab’ on a beach. Now, in his brief and passionate work The Meursault Investigation, Kamel Daoud rewrites the tale from the perspective of the nameless Algerians whose lives were transformed, showing how this archetypal example of disaffected outsider literature might appear to the true outsiders in the story. Daoud cleverly draws together elements from post-colonial theory and other emancipatory disciplines in a flowing and engaging narrative, in which the victim’s brother, Harun, is able to seek both symbolic and physical restitution for his loss. As well as finally naming his brother, Musa, Harun uses French, the language of the oppressors, to ‘speak in the place of a dead man’: he will ‘take the stones from the old houses the colonists left behind, remove them one by one, and build [his] own house, [his] own language.’ Likewise, in this book Daoud takes remnants of his country’s colonised past – the French language, Camus’ The Stranger – and builds something that initially gives the impression of both righting a great wrong and creating something completely new.
Unfortunately, The Meursault Investigation’s liberal literary and cultural politics don’t extend to women. Unsavoury objects and situations are repeatedly compared to ‘an old whore’, a ‘slutty sister’, or a ‘whiff of a woman’s sex’. Moreover, Daoud renders his few female characters through the misogynistic eyes of his protagonist, leaving them stunted and unformed. Indeed, for a character so vehemently opposed to the dehumanisation of people in The Stranger, Harun seems paradoxically eager to enact it himself, echoing the former text’s violence against women and startling lack of empathy. The ensuing psychic dissonance distracts from the text and makes the narrator’s moral high ground increasingly questionable. Ultimately, it begs the question of whether this is an amelioration or just a mirror image of Meursault’s story. Perhaps we will have to wait for a third retelling, in which all people are treated like people, to find out.
Words: Mònica Tomàs