the mersault investigation is the reverse mirror novel by kamel daoud countering camus’ the stranger
l’etranger by albert camus
albert camus in paris… smoking of course!
for all you illiterates, here’s the one connection you may have had to camus… “killing an arab” the song by the cure was based on camus’ the stranger. robert smith read the book… you should too!
ok now for some real talk… the mersault investigation is the debut novel by kamel daoud, an algerian writer who has made his living by journalism, for various french journals. the novel’s first sentence is “mama’s still alive today.” this alerts us to the fact that daoud is re-imagining camu’s 1942 classic “the stranger” for the new century that begins: “mama died today”. camus himself borrowed from ernest hemingway’s spare prosaic style (seen to full effect in a clean well-lighted place) but pushed it to the point of absurdity by creating a first person narrator in the throes of a virtual existential, comatose experience – until he kills an unknown arab on a beach for no apparent reason. he then has to defend himself, to his friends, to the state, and finally to a priest that he lashes out at in one grand soliloquy, where he finally articulates his philosophy to the priest, and even more surprisingly, to himself.
in daoud’s brilliant contemporary “sequel” the “unknown arab” finally has a name – musa –moses in arabic. harun, musas’s brother realizes that he must go back to that catastrophic event and examine the root cause of it – in effect to instigate an investigation – before he can move any further with his life, which is nearing its end. it is of course not only harun, but algerians themselves that must examine, not only camus’ tortured history with algeria, but their colonial past, to move on, and find their way in the new century.
while other novels have taken camus’ masterpiece as a jumping off point – most recently michel houellebecq’s brutal, sardonic “platform”, daoud is more ambitious, being both an homage and a criticism of camus’ work, that does not attempt to resolve that contradiction. daoud’s novel is also a profound meditation on identity, and the secret pull that the dead exercise on the living, and in this it shares some qualities with w.g. sebald. the connections between present day algeria, and the current situation there, are contrasted with the past of camus’ colonial pre-war algeria, and an alienated meursault who could only find his own identity when he realized that he was about to loose it to the guillotine as retribution for a senseless act of violence. in the mersault investigation that senselessness comes full circle into the present tense, bringing camus’ novel back from the mausoleum of the academy, where it has lingered far too long, making it resonate with current history. daoud dares to look back and the result is an imaginative, brilliant, moving book that stays with you – as much as camus’ the stranger. by gp