Will the Real Harun Please Stand Up?

By Ron SrigleyJune 9, 2015

The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud

SINCE ITS PUBLICATION in 1942 there has been an extraordinary amount of discussion about the philosophical and political content of Albert Camus’s novel, The Stranger. In the ’60s and ’70s the book was so popular that it became required reading in many high schools and university classrooms across Europe and North America. That level of interest has declined in recent years, though new readers continue to reflect on the work in fresh ways and against the backdrop of contemporary concerns. Thanks in large part to the good work of the Société des Études Camusiennes and the Albert Camus Society in the UK, there also continues to be a robust, scholarly literature devoted to it and other works by Camus.

In 1994 Edward Said reopened the debate that began in the ’60s with Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and later Conor Cruise O’Brien’s Albert Camus of Europe and Africa about the literary and political value of The Stranger and of Camus’s response to French colonial rule more generally with the publication of his Culture and Imperialism. Where O’Brien had been harsh with Camus, Said was merciless, calling into question the moral courage and clarity that even Camus’s most vigorous opponents — Sartre, Mauriac, Merleau-Ponty — had always acknowledged in his work. For Said, Camus is “not merely representative of so relatively weightless a thing as ‘Western consciousness’ but rather of Western dominance in the non-European world.” Camus, the moral conscience of a generation and one of its most recognized artists, was now being derided as a literary lightweight and an apologist for tyranny.

Camus survived Said’s attack, but some damage had been done. Perhaps even more significant, Said’s approach helped to shift attention away from Camus’s primary philosophical achievement, not toward politics per se — this had always been an element of Camus’s analysis of the Western philosophical tradition, particularly its technological preeminence and its utopian aspirations — but toward the contemporary politics of liberation taken as a measure both of Camus’s philosophical worth and of the worth of philosophy per se. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Camus questioned Marx’s assertion and Said’s appropriation of it and instead attempted to understand the world. The result was a nuanced, profound affirmation of the world’s order coupled with a courageous effort to ameliorate the human condition. “History taught me that not all was well under the sun, but the sun taught me that history was not everything […] I wanted to change lives, yes, but not the world which I worshipped as divine.” For Camus, Marx’s dictum lacked humility, and his idealism, though exciting, was less salutary for human life than Camus’s own, more tragic form of realism.

It was not until 2007 that an adequate response to Said’s analysis appeared. David Carroll’s fine book Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice acknowledged the limitations in Camus’s account (and what account of a phenomenon as complex as colonialism does not have limitations?) while offering a more accurate picture and much fairer assessment of Camus’s writings on Algeria. In doing so the book helped to set the historical record straight, but of course it could not by itself stem the intellectual and political tide of which Said’s criticism was in some ways merely an expression. However Carroll’s work may have changed people’s assessment of Camus on the questions of Algeria and French colonialism, the intellectual currents of the age were now moving in a different direction, one quite different from the climate of anguish, wonder, and despair that were the main drivers of the narrative of The Stranger.

This change is apparent in the culture in many ways, but I find it acutely so in the university classroom, where books like The Stranger still set the curriculum but tend to be at odds with student concerns and dispositions. It is not merely Camus’s preoccupation with “the big questions” that seems so out of place in today’s tech-savvy world, in which an insoluble problem is no problem at all. It is otherwise in the moral universe of The Stranger. Camus has Meursault ask questions that are meaningful, but unanswerable. He does so, first, because such questions demand to be asked, but also because by asking them the quality of one’s emotional and intellectual apprehension of the world may be refined and matured into something resembling wisdom. No one knows, and no one ever will know, what death is, because an experience of death precludes the possibility of reporting that experience. It is an unanswerable question. Yet thinking about Meursault in his prison cell awaiting execution and considering his thoughts about what is happening to him (none of which admit of a solution) and his impending death somehow seem worthwhile and even vitally important things to do. Or did. This type of activity is a hard sell in today’s classroom. “Like Meursault, we’re all going to die, some sooner than we should. Doesn’t that make you wonder about the point of life, about what it all means, what’s true and what’s not, what’s worth something and what’s not?” “Meh. Do you have the new iPhone 6?”

Kamel Daoud’s new book, The Meursault Investigation, breaks from these tendencies and returns us to a world in which Camus and Meursault’s questions are the real engines of the human drama. The context of the book — Post-Liberation Algeria — also allows him to tackle the question of Camus’s colonialism, but in conversation with Camus’s more profound metaphysical and moral concerns. Apart from his literary gifts, Daoud seems well equipped to address these problems. In a recent interview in The New York Times he remarked that for Camus the question of God or the sacred is central. For Daoud, too, I think, though like Camus, not in a dogmatic sense. The sacred is a way of affirming the world while allowing our ethical sensibilities and our need to resist it to flourish without giving way to nihilism.


The Meursault Investigation retells the story of Camus’s Stranger from the point of view of the murdered Arab’s brother, Harun, who narrates the tale. The Stranger thus supplies the content and historical context for the story, but also serves as a template for the events of Harun’s life. But The Stranger is not Daoud’s only Camusian source text for The Meursault Investigation. He also uses The Fall to frame Harun’s narrative and to illuminate, at least in part, its ambition. The Meursault Investigation is a “contre-enquête[1] — a counter-investigation or interrogation of the events depicted in The Stranger in order to understand them from the point of view of the Arabs who remain nameless in The Stranger. However, it is also a “confession” modeled explicitly on that of Jean-Baptiste Clamence in The Fall. Like Clamence, Harun’s narrative takes the form of a conversation with an unnamed interlocutor who never speaks directly in the work. As in The Fall, that conversation takes place in a seedy bar — “The Titanic” — in a port city on the outskirts of Europe, though not Amsterdam this time but Oran in Algeria. In both confessions the truth of the tales being told and the real ambition in telling them are rendered uncertain by ambiguities and contradictions in the accounts and by explicit remarks by the narrators that call them into question. For instance, in The Fall Jean-Baptiste concedes to his interlocutor that “it’s very hard to disentangle the true from the false in what I’m saying.” In The Meursault Investigation a similar trope occurs, one that culminates in Harun’s final disclaimer that he might just be “a compulsive liar you met with so you could fill up your notebooks.” But more about that momentarily.

It is in its use of these two very different sources texts that much of The Meursault Investigation’s meaning resides, a meaning that is complicated by the manner in which Daoud uses the texts individually, but also by the uneasy way in which they together shape the narrative. Harun is Meursault’s “double,” but he is also Jean-Baptiste’s. When he assumes the former role, even at those moments when he is correcting what he takes to be Meursault’s excesses and omissions, he also embodies Meursault’s virtues — honesty, a genuine love of life, the desire for the truth, the longing for a more existentially satisfying condition. When his voice shifts to that of Jean-Baptiste, however, the narrative voice changes too — it becomes corrosive of meaning, duplicitous, and even nihilistic.

Where Daoud finally comes down with regard to these matters is difficult to say. Despite the various criticisms of Camus apparent in Harun’s narrative, I think there is good evidence to suggest that Daoud’s own philosophy and politics are much closer to Camus’s than it might appear, at least as Daoud understands him. I add the qualification because I’m not sure that Harun’s absurd is Camus’s, or that the complete absence of redemption in his “origin myth” is consistent with Camus’s own tragic vision. It’s true that Harun is highly critical of Meursault’s world: “Your Meursault doesn’t describe a world in his book, he describes the end of a world.” The description Harun offers of this “end of a world” is rather peculiar — there is no property, marriage becomes unnecessary, weddings are useless, people hold sick dogs and are incapable of sustained, meaningful speech. Nonetheless one gets the point: Harun does not go for the type of existential indifference Meursault embodies in the early parts of the book. Leave it aside for the moment that neither did Camus and that The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus depict, each in its own way, not a philosophy or metaphysic but a certain “mal de esprit.” Harun himself has a good deal of trouble with these things. Ironically, he is an isolated, lonely bachelor who cannot tolerate love, which he considers little more that “ritual, habit, and dubious bonding.” Admittedly much of this attitude was caused in him by events beyond his control — his brother’s death and his mother’s stifling response to it. Yet even his mature view of life is extremely bleak — “we are born alone and will die separate.” The Fall too is a very bleak book, but its bleakness is calculated and strategic. As we learn from the book’s epigraph, Jean-Baptiste is a “portrait […] [of] the aggregate of vices of our whole generation in their fullest expression,” not a final statement of life’s meaninglessness. The narrative is carefully crafted to cause the reader to recoil from its nihilism and to discover what is missing from Jean-Baptiste’s account. In a word, it’s a critique of contemporary nihilism, not an assertion of it. It is not entirely clear from The Meursault Investigation that the same is true for Daoud. But I anticipate the argument.


In The Meursault Investigation, Harun, the murdered man’s brother and the book’s narrator, offers an account in which the narrative of The Stranger is taken as describing real historical events whose character, meaning, and consequences he both disputes and attempts to explain more faithfully. And the reworking of the story does not stop there. Harun also assumes that the murderer — Meursault, not Camus — wrote The Stranger as a firsthand account of those events. Indeed, Harun removes Camus entirely from the equation by claiming that this same Meursault went on to write many books and to become a famous French author.

Though the fictional form of this approach to Camus’s books is new, the approach itself is not. Since the publication of The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger there has been a habit among commentators to identify Camus with his characters and to interpret the philosophical orientations he examines in his essays — the absurd, rebellion — as his own. Against this habit Camus himself protested. “The idea that every writer necessarily writes about himself and depicts himself in his books is one of the most puerile notions that we have inherited from romanticism. It is by no means impossible — quite the opposite — that a writer should be interested first and foremost in other people, or in his time, or in well-known myths.” In The Meursault Investigation, too, this identification is an interpretative choice, which should not be obscured by its dramatic function. Why Daoud settles on it is difficult to say, though a fuller interpretation of the book would certainly bring us closer to answering that question. Nonetheless, there is a partial explanation that is apparent in Harun’s critique of Meursault in the early pages of the novel. Meursault refers to Musa, Harun’s brother, only ever as “the Arab,” depriving him of a voice and, indeed, of any real existence. In The Stranger Camus erases Musa from history, and with him all Arabs, by refusing to give him a name. Daoud returns the favor by writing a book in which Camus, the famous French author, is erased from history by assigning authorship of his books to one of his fictional characters. Of course, The Meursault Investigation is about much more than this type of petty, literary revenge. But perhaps it is not about less than this either.

At first glance the structure of The Meursault Investigation seems straightforward. It is a mirror image of The Stranger. When we first encounter Harun he is stifling in the shadow of his brother’s murder and his mother’s overwhelming grief, so much so that he feels himself a “dead man.” This contrasts with Meursault, who, despite the death of his mother (a fact Harun disputes), is rather enjoying himself when we first encounter him in The Stranger. Midway through The Meursault Investigation, as in The Stranger, an event occurs that changes dramatically the course of the protagonist’s life: Meursault kills an Arab, Musa, Harun’s brother, and is tried for murder and then sentenced to death; Harun kills a Frenchman, a roumi (stranger),[2] Joseph Larquais, and is exonerated. Though Harun later comes to resent his acquittal, his initial response to his crime is so jubilant that his judge’s accommodation seems positively prosaic by comparison. Whereas Meursault says his shooting of the Arab was like “four short raps on the door of unhappiness,” Harun says that his murder of Joseph Larquais was “like two sharp raps on the door of deliverance.” And indeed it was. In the immediate aftermath of the crime both Harun and his mother experience a kind of liberation in which the old and destructive patterns of their lives are suspended long enough for a few genuine acts of kindness and understanding.

Read in this way The Meursault Investigation is a critique of the colonial regime and its literature, similar to those of writers like Sartre, Fanon, and Said. By the time of the Liberation, the French had been ruthlessly exploiting the Arab and Berber populations of Algeria for over 130 years. That exploitation is represented in the book by the destruction of Harun’s family through the murder of his brother by a bored and indifferent pied noir. Harun, the surviving son, along with his mother, undertakes to learn details of the murder and to receive some form of redress — a declaration of Musa as a “martyr” and a corresponding pension for his mother. All of it to no avail, until one evening in 1962 just after the Liberation, when Harun (the colonized) shoots and kills a Frenchman (the colonizer) found hiding in the garden of the home that he and his mother had occupied after the departure of its French owners. The liberating quality of that act, apparent in Harun’s description of it as “deliverance,” is consistent with Fanon’s statement of the therapeutic nature of anti-colonial violence. “At the individual level, violence is a cleansing force. It rids the colonized of their inferiority complex, of their passive and despairing attitude.”[3] So justified is this violence for Fanon that it is no longer perceived as a violation. Harun says something very similar: though his act was as unprovoked and senseless as Meursault’s, whom he refers to as a “murderer” throughout, it “was not a murder but a restitution.”

This critique of the colonial regime applies equally to colonial literature. Though Harun never refers to Camus by name, only to Meursault, the technique is not disinterested. Just as the colonials’ households and lands became the property of the Arabs and Berbers following the Liberation, Harun claims that so too do the murderer’s words and expressions — his books — become “my unclaimed goods.” As for the critique itself, Harun says Meursault’s silence about Musa’s corpse is a

denial of a shockingly violent kind, don’t you think? As soon as the shot is fired, the murderer turns around, heading for a mystery he considers worthier of interest than the Arab’s life […] As for my brother Zujj, he’s discreetly removed from the scene and deposited I don’t know where. Neither seen nor known, only killed.

This criticism of The Stranger accords perfectly with Said’s critique of Camus. For him, Camus’s books, and even his moral sensibility, merely “revive the history of French domination in Algeria, with a circumspect precision and a remarkable lack of remorse or compassion.”[4]

This critique of French colonialism generally and of Camus’s literary version of it particularly is at least part of the meaning of The Meursault Investigation. Whether or not that critique is justified in Camus’s case is a matter that cannot be discussed adequately here.[5] I will note only that Camus’s sustained and principled defense of the indigenous populations of Algeria — whether Kabyles or Arabs — from the rapacity of French colonial rule is a matter of historical record. And so too is his defense of their right both to greater political autonomy and full French citizenship, something he promoted as early as 1946 when no one in France had given the slightest thought to Algeria. Indeed the explosion of the conflict in the 1950s was in large part due to a repeated failure by the metropole to heed Camus’s warnings about the consequences of neglecting the reality of the country’s indigenous populations. It is as if Camus told the French government, “Don’t do that! Alright, fine. But please don’t do that. My goodness, whatever you do, don’t do that!” until the situation became so acute and the mistrust so profound that a reasonable resolution of the situation became all but impossible. This explains the no-man’s land in which Camus found himself in the late 1950s. His refusal to support the FLN and its policy of “total war” led his critics to believe he supported the metropole and its policy of total war. In fact, Camus was much closer to de Gaulle, who supported Algerian independence. But Camus wanted to proceed more slowly than de Gaulle and to reach a negotiated settlement that would cut short the bloodbath and avoid the excesses that he believed would attend an abrupt and complete independence from France. In fairness to Camus it should be acknowledged that the types of excesses that followed Independence were very much those he anticipated. And he rightly identified the hypocrisy of the FLN leadership, which advocated total emancipation from France as an engine of revolutionary fervor but quickly settled down to business as usual with its former oppressor in order to float Algeria’s economy and educate its children. As we shall see in a moment, Daoud may be closer to Camus in this regard than he is to either Fanon or Sartre.


Though the anti-colonialism narrative is one of the book’s meanings, it is not its only meaning or even its most important one. Though never abandoned entirely, it is called into question and qualified by a series of more profound insights into Harun and Algeria’s situation that emerge in the narrative. Exegetically this is complicated because these insights do not simply appear chronologically as the narrative progresses. They can also be found in the earliest pages of the book where they exist uneasily alongside positions they challenge and will ultimately supersede. For instance, Harun’s disaffection with and critique of French colonialism is essential to his retelling of the murder of his brother. Yet he also claims that “Independence only pushed people on both sides to switch roles” and, therefore, that the return of Algeria to its indigenous populations was not the political miracle it was anticipated to be. As the Third Priest in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral says: “Kings rule or barons rule: The strong man strongly and the weak man by caprice. They have but one law, to seize the power and keep it.”[6] Daoud rejects identity politics as an alternative to real politics because he does not believe that identity trumps nature, of which politics is a part. There is, as a result, a kind of sobriety in his assessment of post-Liberation Algeria that is at odds with the official narrative and more consistent with Camus’s own brand of compassionate political realism.

This type of insight is apparent in The Meursault Investigation in a number of different ways, three of which I would like to discuss. First, Harun’s interpretation of Meursault is not univocal but polyphonic. Sometimes Meursault is just another colonial whose indifference serves as an image of French rule in Algeria. In such cases Harun interprets Meursault’s crime as unmotivated and his language as beautiful but empty in order better to depict the gratuitous violence of colonialism and the manner in which it hides the ugliness of that violence with elevated but empty speech. Meursault’s language is “perfect prose […] capable of giving air facets like diamonds.” Yet all of this merely obscures the fact that Musa was killed “by a Frenchman who just didn’t know what to do with his day and with the rest of the world, which he carried on his back.” Well and good. But later on Harun asserts that Meursault had a reason for killing his brother and that the language with which he describes the act is not obfuscating at all but illuminating of a new reality he has discovered:

Musa wanted to save the girl’s honor by teaching your hero a lesson, and he protected himself by shooting my brother in cold blood on a beach. […] The reason why your hero tells the story of my brother’s murder so well is that he’d reached a new territory, a language that was unknown and grew more powerful in his embrace, the words like pitilessly carved stones, a language as naked as Euclidean geometry.

As we’ve already noted briefly, Harun’s assessment of post-Liberation Algeria changes over the course of the novel. Initially consistent with the narrative of decolonization and highly critical of the French — “Who, me? Nostalgic for French Algeria? No! You haven’t understood a word I’ve said” — Harun also offers an extremely damning critique of the post-Liberation regime: rampant religious dogmatism and fanaticism in comparison with which Meursault’s French Catholics seem very small beer; rapacious exploitation of the country’s resources comparable to that of any colonial regime; and a judiciary so corrupt that Meursault’s trial appears as a model of legality and due process by comparison. By the time Harun finishes the critique, one wonders whether he might be a little nostalgic about the French after all.

The third type of insight is not an insight per se but rather a manner of playing with facts that suggests a more complex way of understanding the events they purport to describe. Sometimes this playing with facts produces ambiguities or lacunae in the narrative; at other times it produces facts that flatly contradict one another. As to the former, Harun reveals to us early on that the body of his brother was never actually found and that he is therefore officially a “missing person.” This is a rather significant piece of information. If there is no body, then how do we know that he was murdered? And more important, why would Harun and his mother assume that he was and that Meursault was the one who did it? Is the entire story a fabrication (we’ll come back to this in a moment) designed by Harun to satisfy his mother’s desire for an explanation of Musa’s disappearance? This too is a plausible explanation, because at one point Harun tells us that his early accounts of Musa’s murder were complete fabrications that he merely pretended were in some way related to the two newspaper clippings (about a murder?) that his illiterate mother kept between her breasts.

That led to a strange book — which I perhaps should have written out, as a matter of fact, if I’d had your hero’s gift — a counter-investigation. I crammed everything I could between the lines of those two brief newspaper items, I swelled their volume until I made them a cosmos. And so Mama got a complete imaginary reconstruction of the crime, including the color of the sky, the circumstances, the words exchanged between the victim and his murderer, the atmosphere in the courtroom, the policemen’s theories, the cunning of the pimp and the other witnesses, the lawyers’ pleas ...Well, I can talk about it like that now, but at the time it was an incredibly disordered jumble, a kind of Thousand and One Nights of lies and infamy.

As to the contradictions, two examples will suffice to indicate the technique. Frequently in the story Meursault is described as having gone on, after the trial, to become a famous French writer (31, 43, 105). Yet Harun also tells us that he was executed for his crime in 1942 immediately following his conviction (44, 112). There are also anachronisms in the account. We know that Harun does not learn about Meursault’s book until 1962, 20 years after it was written (39). Yet, as he walks the streets of Algiers with mother as a youth in search of evidence regarding the disappearance of his brother, his mother cries out for revenge on the various witnesses in The Stranger who speak in defense of Meursault at the trial — Raymond, Salamano, Céleste — whom she denigrates with unflattering nicknames (34). How could either of them know these names?


In fiction, anything goes that you can get away with. But as Orwell once remarked, you can’t get way with much. The contradictions, ambiguities, and anachronisms evident in The Meursault Investigation challenge the reader to puzzle over their meanings and to discover the manner in which they together illuminate the work as a whole. This is a challenge indeed, and it is so without even mentioning interpretive problems like determining the identity of Harun’s interlocutor or the ghost that haunts the Titanic. Who is this “Mr. Investigator,” this French youth who comes to Oran, decades after the fact, to learn of Meursault’s Arab victim? Is Harun in fact talking to anyone, or is The Meursault Investigation a cleverly disguised monologue, as is the case in The Fall? If the latter is true, what does it mean? In The Fall the reason for the device is clear once you understand the related imagery: Jean-Baptiste is the “judge-penitent,” the one who both confesses and absolves. Why does he do this? Why the double role? Because to confess to anyone, even were he to employ the various techniques for doing so that he describes in the closing pages of the book, would be to submit himself, at least potentially, to the judgment of another, and this is what Jean-Baptiste cannot tolerate above all else. No judgment — ever — because judgment implies subordination and subordination is anathema to Jean-Baptiste’s project of self-deification. But in the case of Harun? Why does he talk only to himself, if indeed that is what he is doing? And who is the ghost in the bar with the cigarette and newspaper clippings that hovers around the table? Camus?

The difficulty in all of these cases is that there is, frequently, no clear textual reason to prefer one explanation to another, or even to be able to offer an explanation at all. Harun tells his interlocutor that Meursault did not attend his mother’s funeral. He adds rhetorically, “Do you realize what it would mean if I could prove what I’m telling you, if I could prove your hero wasn’t even present at his mother’s funeral?” No matter how long one ponders this question it seems impossible to know what to make of it.

Though the interpretation I would like to offer here is only tentative, I think it helps to account for these odd structures and also to satisfy the demands of charity. Any book as obviously complex and contradictory as The Meursault Investigation is so intentionally. How can we explain this?

Just shy of the mathematical center of the book, Harun warns his interlocutor that the clues he/she seeks regarding the murder of Musa cannot be found through “any geographical searching.” In other words, don’t look for the bodies, whether in cemeteries or on beaches. They aren’t there. But why? Because as Harun tells us, “This story takes place somewhere in someone’s head, in mine and in yours and in the heads of people like you. In a sort of beyond.” What can this mean?

Given the sheer multiplicity of plausible interpretations it may be that the book is a nod in the direction of post-modern indeterminacy. That makes some sense, particularly given Harun’s denunciation of absolute or totalizing movements. Like Camus, he considers such movements to be nihilistic because they deny the world. Post-modernism’s denial of a reality other than or beyond the text bears a family resemblance to such movements, though not in its political and emotional climate. Post-modernism is playful, whereas totalitarianism is serious and humorless. While that playfulness may not provide adequate intellectual or political grounds for resisting nihilists who are not playful, it is certainly more salutary for human life and can often be experienced as liberating given totalitarianism’s stifling insistence on meaning. Daoud’s book confounds the facts and critiques those who insist on them too earnestly, in order to encourage us to see the extent to which all facts are somehow “in someone’s head.”

Immediately following the above assertion, Harun tells his interlocutor, “You will get a better grasp on my version of the facts if you accept the idea that this story is like an origin myth.” What myth? The story of “Cain and Abel.” The way Harun unpacks the myth is to say that Cain is Meursault, but also in a broader sense the French, who come to dispossess Abel (the Arabs) of his home. But as we have seen, these roles reverse once there is a shift in power. Then the Arabs become Cain in their turn, ousting the Berbers and French from their homeland in the Arabs’ own rapacious desire for conquest. But this is not all. Later, after his murder of Joseph Larquais, Harun returns to the myth once again, but this time to explain that it is not merely an “origin myth” but a teleological one too: “No, I’m not drunk, I’m dreaming about a trial, but they’re all dead already, and I was the last to kill. The story of Cain and Abel, but at the end of mankind, not at the start” (my emphasis).

This is a very bleak account. It is Hegel’s and Marx’s dialectic of master and slave but without the happy ending. I think this is why Harun tells his interlocutor that his “isn’t a trite story of forgiveness or revenge.” In this context forgiveness and revenge are considered trite because they both presume that things can be different. But Harun’s account denies this. The violent struggle for supremacy is our beginning and our end. It is nature. That is why Harun declares that his story is “a curse” and “a trap.” The sequence of events he describes may look like “restitution” or “deliverance” — even if only the eye-for-an-eye version of these things. But the narrative makes it clear that the situation is even worse than this. The world is doomed to repeat this sequence eternally, as it were. It is a curse. But the story is also a “trap.” How so?

As I said near the outset of this review, The Fall is Daoud’s other Camusian source text for The Meursault Investigation. While The Stranger supplies the content and context of the book, The Fall supplies its narrative structure and voice. Like Jean-Baptiste Clamence (and very much unlike Meursault in The Stanger), Harun is cynical and duplicitous in the recounting of his tale, his real motives never fully clear. In Jean-Baptiste’s case the reasons for this duplicity are essential elements of The Fall’s content. His tale, too, is a “trap,” but it is a trap that Camus wants the reader to understand and to escape if possible. This is also true of The Meursault Investigation, though what one is escaping and to where is unclear in the book. In The Fall, the bleakness of Jean-Baptiste’s narrative is the trap from which Camus wants us to escape. In Daoud’s book? Is the trap the belief that the cycle of violence described in the book occurs in a moral universe, or that it doesn’t? Is The Meursault Investigation a critique of Jean-Baptiste set in a different dispensation? Or is it an attempt to do him one better? It’s anyone’s guess.


[1] The French title of the work is Meursault, contre-enquête.

[2] In Arabic, rūmīy. Literally, “Roman.”

[3] Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 51.

[4] Edward Saïd, Culture and Imperialism, 181.

[5] For a fine study of the matter, see David Carroll, Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice.

[6] T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral.


Dr. Ron Srigley teaches classical political philosophy and religion and literature at the University of Prince Edward Island. He is the author of Albert Camus’ Critique of Modernity and the translator of Camus’s Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonism.

LARB Contributor

Ron Srigley is a writer. His work has appeared in The Walrus, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and L’Obs, as well as in a variety of scholarly journals. He teaches philosophy and religious studies at Laurentian University and in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Humber College, Toronto. He is author of Albert Camus’s Critique of Modernity and translator of Albert Camus’s Christian Metaphysics and Neoplatonism. Photo by Elliott Tilleczek.


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