Magazine article The Spectator

'The Meursault Investigation', by Kamel Daoud - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Meursault Investigation', by Kamel Daoud - Review

Article excerpt

The Meursault Investigation Kamel Daoud

One World Publications, pp.160, £8.99, ISBN: 9781780748399

In 1975 the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, in a lecture at the University of Massachusetts, identified Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as the work of a racist. Achebe objected to a story that used Africa as a setting for 'the break-up of one petty European mind', and depicted Africans as nameless savages. Achebe's lecture -- a masterpiece of special pleading, false analysis and anachronism -- is now established as a founding text in the post-colonial school of criticism.

On reading the cover blurb for The Meursault Investigation , one might have the impression that in this debut novel, Kamel Daoud, a native of Oran, has carried out a similar assault on Albert Camus's first novel, L'Etranger (translated as The Outsider ). In it Camus told the story of a young Frenchman, Meursault, who killed an Arab for no good reason on the beach in his home town of Oran, and was duly executed for murder. The book, published in 1942 during the wartime Occupation, made Camus's reputation. But throughout the story Meursault's victim remains nameless. He is always referred to as 'the Arab', identified merely as one of a group of natives who hold a grudge against Raymond, a friend of Meursault's.

In The Meursault Investigation , short-listed for the Prix Goncourt in 2014, Daoud sets out to retell the story of 'the Arab's' death. His narrator is the dead man's brother and his purpose is to re-establish the corpse's humanity and to avenge his family for the indignity of the life he and his mother have been forced to lead in the shadow of a masterpiece. He names his brother.

The murderer had a name. Whereas my brother [who] died in a book only had the name of an incident. [The author] could have called him 'Two p.m.' like that other writer who called his black man 'Friday'.

We learn that he was called 'Musa'.

There are echoes and deliberate mis-quotations from L'Etranger throughout The Meursault Incident , starting with the opening sentence, 'Mother is still alive today'. The picture of the narrator's life in modern Oran is grim. Things have deteriorated since the first years of independence. …

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