Thursday 15 September 2016

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

The Meursault Investigation

by Kamel Daoud,

Translated by John Cullen

 Ever read L’√Čtranger (The Outsider (UK) / The Stranger (US)) by Albert Camus? Then you’ll want to read “The Meursault Investigation” by Kamel Daoud.

Camus’ book is written in two parts, before and after a murder of an unnamed Arab on the beach by its first person narrator, Meursault. He is a French Algerian, who had just attended his own mother’s funeral and who is then tried and sentenced to death for the murder. The book was written in 1942, pre the Algerian War of Independence (1954 – 1962).

In 2013 Kamel Daoud wrote The Meursault Investigation. This is a postcolonialist response to Camus’ “The Stranger “ from the perspective of the brother  of the victim in Camus’ story. Daoud names the Arab, presents him as a real person, Musa, the older brother of his narrator, Harun, and explores the lives of the younger brother and his mother following the murder, the French withdrawal and Algerian Independence. Pairings with Camus’ book abound within Daoud’s book – in Camus the mother was died, in Daoud’s she is “still alive”; the woman Marie in Camus’ book and Meriem in Daoud’s; in both there is a murder etc. In effect the two books are two sides of the same coin, investigating the absurdities of life, and elucidating Algerian history and the failures of Independence.

Now the subject of a fatwa, the author Kamel Daoud continues to work as a journalist in Oran, Algeria believing that addressing the “bug” of extremism in society turns it into a greater scourge and gives it unwarranted credence. There is an interesting Interview with the author available free online. The author’s views on the West’s denial of the role of Saudi Arabia in the rise of so-called Islamic State / ISIS / Daesh are well documented and his writings provide an illuminating insight into the culture clashes now being played out in Europe and around the Med stemming from, he argues, the paradox of sex within the Arab, Moslem world, and the West’s reactive Burkini v Bikini battle. According to Daoud, writing shortly after the Cologne attacks,

“What Cologne showed is how sex is "the greatest misery in the world of Allah.
So is the refugee 'savage'? No. But he is different. And giving him papers and a place in a hostel is not enough. It is not just the physical body that needs asylum. It is also the soul that needs to be persuaded to change.
This Other (the immigrant) comes from a vast, appalling, painful universe - an Arab-Muslim world full of sexual misery, with its sick relationship towards woman, the human body, desire. Merely taking him in is not a cure."

This resulted in academic and journalistic frenzy of attacks on Daoud, accusing him of racism, self-hatred and saying “his arguments play into the hands of the anti-immigrants in Europe who can now use them to nurse their own "illusions" .”, such statements even coming from writers who had previously supported him, who had seen him as a man “who believed that people in Algeria and the wider Muslim world deserved a great deal better than military rule or Islamism, the two-entree menu they had been offered since the end of colonialism” I note with interest that article mentions a campaign in Oran which used the slogan “We are Kamel Daoud” existed way before the “Je suis Charlie” slogan in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. In the confusing world of Algerian politics, nevermind the maze of Arab and Moslem politics, I find myself at sea in its myriad of perspectives.

However, back to the book. Written as a conversation between Harun and an unnamed listener, a journalist, overshadowed by the ghost (of Camus/ Meursault?) in the bar, it held me throughout its exploration of the life of Haroun, his relationship with his mother – tender, resentful, angry, admiring –”Mama is still alive” “I’ll invite you to her funeral” is continually says. I’m sure if I thought more about this I could make an analysis of this book in terms of mother = Algeria and Harun’s drunken musings being the mess that Algerian society is post independence, post civil war with its high unemployment, moslemisation, and its still split personality – French  / Arab / Berber.  Reading it, its stream of consciousness style, I found myself recalling reading another likewise styled book many years before, namely “The Thief and the Dogs” by Naguib Mahfouz, another psychological portrait of an anguished man bent on revenge. That book open up a whole new world of reading for me. Harun too is a man who represented a certain aspect of Algerian psyche, he did not fight with the “brothers” for the revolution, he does not believe in God, and mourns the demise of liberated woman like Meriem from Algerian society, whilst remaining forever defined by the acts of both coloniser and colonised, actions beget actions, war begets war, vengeance begets vengeance, hate begets hate, a never ending spiral in which Harun in effect follows in the very footsteps of his brother’s murderer.

ashramblings verdict 5* I love what the author has done with this story, the style he used to portray it, it’s intimate relationship with its mirror image, Camus’ The Stranger, and its postcolonial currency. One of the most gripping book’s I have read this year.

Notable Reviews

By Laila Lamai in The New York Times
By Robin Yassin-Kassab in The Guardian
By Claire Messud In New York Review of Books

1 comment:

  1. Clearly there is a lot of renewed interest in Camus' book. It is reported in the TLS that Alice Kaplan is writing a book entitled Looking for the Outsider