A Double Review: Camus and Kamel

I somehow never got around to reading The Stranger until yesterday. I finished it today and immediately picked up Kamel Daoud’s companion novel The Meursault Investigation. If you, like me, waited to read The Stranger, the crux of the plot is that a disaffected French Algerian man buries his mother; he is unable to grieve, or indeed, to feel much of anything. He strikes up an affair with a woman he works with, becomes involved in an argument between his neighbor Raymond and Raymond’s mistress, whom Raymond believes is cheating on him. While Raymond and the narrator Meursault are out, they see the “brother” of Raymond’s mistress, and, believing the brother is spoiling for revenge over his sister’s treatment, they start a fight. Though the fight ends, Meursault heads back out to the beach and finds the mistress’s brother, known only as “the Arab” and kills him. The rest of the book details Meursault’s contemplations behind bars, including his trial, which turns into an absurdist farce when the prosecutor, jury, and judge are more upset by Meursault’s lack of grief over his mother’s death than the fact that he has killed an Arab.

It is upon this point that The Meursault Investigation turns. The narrator of The Meursault Investigation is Harun, the brother of the Arab Meursault killed—and he had a name: Musa. Harun is haunted by his brother’s death and by the murderer who wrote about it and neglected even to name his brother, stripping him of an identity, of personhood, of meaning. Both Harun and his mother piece together the details of Musa’s murder, but neither is able to find peace in the wake of his loss, and even revenge doesn’t bring Harun the solace he seeks.

I’m really glad I waited so long to read The Stranger so that I could read The Meursault Investigation right after. In the future, I imagine that these two books will be read together, companion pieces. The interesting thing that Daoud does with the story (which is something I think Camus misses) is make it about colonialism. Camus doesn’t name the Arab because it’s not important to his story. The murder is just what lands Meursault in prison. No one much cares about it. The problem with this attitude is that the Arab’s life did matter. Daoud gives the man a name and a family—identity, personhood, meaning. The Meursault Investigation explores the effects of colonialism on Algeria and makes Meursault, like so many of his countrymen, complicit in the “murder” of the country’s identity.

Of the two, I definitely enjoyed The Meursault Investigation more. I understand I’m supposed to find Meursault profound, but mainly I just found him very frightening and extremely difficult to relate to. Someone who is so unable to feel anything is truly in a horrible place. Harun, by contrast, not only tries to understand and make meaning of his brother’s death, but he even tries to understand his brother’s murderer as well as those readers who have found meaning in The Stranger. And unlike Meursault, he has been able to understand love and longing and a life truly given up for the sake another. I want to thank Carol Jago, English teacher extraordinaire and reading muse, for recommending this one.

The Stranger Rating: ★★★☆☆
The Meursault Investigation Rating: ★★★★☆

P. S. These last two books make 52 books for the year for me, which was the reading goal I set. WHOOP!

4 thoughts on “A Double Review: Camus and Kamel

    1. Yeah, I think they need to be read together. I didn’t try it the other way, but all the references to The Stranger in Meursault would be hard to get otherwise.

  1. I’ve read The Stranger twice, both a very long time ago, and like the book. I heard about The Meursault Investigation a month or two ago on public radio and thought it sounded really good but my library didn’t have it yet and until now I have forgotten about it. So I am glad to hear it is good and I will now go and see if my library finally has it!
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