21st Century Literature discussion

2018 Book Discussions > Meursault Investigation - Whole Book (Spoilers Allowed) (Dec 2018)

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Marc (last edited Dec 15, 2018 07:43AM) (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2592 comments Mod
This thread is aimed at discussing the whole book--feel free to share your general impressions, specific questions, or any topics that interest you.

Some questions to consider (feel free to start off with your own comments/questions):

- To whom is this book addressed? The narrator addresses the reader throughout--what assumptions are being made about this reader?

- How does the perspective in this novel reframe the story?

- What sort of relationship or dialogue does this book create amongst itself, the reader, Camus, and The Stranger?

- Why do you think a journalist like Daoud turned his hand to fiction for the first time to tell this story?

message 2: by Ellie (new)

Ellie (elliearcher) | 143 comments I though it was interesting that a person who was "othered" be moved from the margins, from a plot device to the center, to be given a life of his own. I would think a journalist like Daoud would be especially interested in seeing an Arab man be central to the plot, to be what the book is about.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 241 comments I'm about half-way through, will probably finish sometime this evening.

Not ready to comment on the lead questions yet...I'd like to give the author a chance to develop his story, but I have to say that it seems very rambling up to this point. One thought I had was that, given the narrator's insistence on learning French and telling his story in French, I should have looked for a French edition...though I'm not exactly sure why he felt so insistent about it.

I'm also thinking about pulling down my copy of The Stranger and re-reading the pivotal scene. Most of the details had escaped me, though I'm picking them up by context in Daoud's treatment of it.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 241 comments Marc wrote: "- To whom is this book addressed? The narrator addresses the reader throughout--what assumptions are being made about this reader?..."

Again...I don't want to jump the gun--maybe I'll think different when I've finished, but it didn't seem to me that the narrator is addressing the reader specifically...it may be splitting hairs, but it seemed to me he is addressing a fan of (Camus') Meursault's book. (He mentions somewhere that the murderer goes to prison but is later released, and it was my impression that in this alternate world that Daoud has created, Meursault is substituted for Camus as the author. I hope I haven't misread) So the narrator is addressing someone I take to be so enthused by The Stranger that they've hunted up the brother of Meursault's murder victim.

The difference is slight, maybe, but the listener strikes me as an uncritical enthusiast--someone wearing blinders, perhaps.

message 5: by Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (last edited Dec 17, 2018 12:19PM) (new)

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 241 comments Well, this is kind of interesting--I went looking to make sure I'd read right, and then I noticed this, on page 52, that Harun says to his listener, "You're here to find a corpse and write your book."

This makes me think that Daoud is the listener--that that is who is being addressed, though, obviously we readers are in the voyeuristic position of overhearing.

Later, page 53, Harun, talking about 'the book', says, "When the murderer leaves prison, he writes a book that becomes famous, in which he recounts how he stood up to God, a priest, and the absurd." So apparently in this story there is no Camus, though using the word murderer to designate the author of 'the book' might have a double meaning.

Also, interesting that Harun makes of point of giving us the Arabic word for illicit--Haram. Is there any significance in the fact that this word is similar to the narrator's? Probably not, but still interesting.

message 6: by Lia (new)

Lia This question of the silent (silenced?) interlocutor is exactly why I said this book reminds me of The Fall -- which is a novella with the narrator speaking to a silent someone in a bar in Amsterdam. It's probably one of Camus' most difficult, most linguistically sophisticated novel, you know the theme has to do with judgment (or the right to) and (pomposity of) claim of innocence (who presume they're in a position to judge). Someone is on trial, but it's very hard to pin down what it is "really" about.

It's a rather interesting choice to borrow that narrative frame, but engage in a sort of "dialogue" with the Stranger.

This book opens with a remark about the narrator's long-living (still living) mother. There's also that labyrinthine difficulty with translating Camus' word choice for "mother"... My own interpretation is that he is signaling he reads Camus' "mother" as a stand in for "motherland," and Meursault's dead mother signals the end of "homeland" status to the Algeria-born French. He's suddenly rootless, his identity thrown open and unhinged. Whereas our narrator here is telling a story of springing back and reclaiming motherland by appropriating their language, merging with their (less sophisticated) dialects, as a way of undoing what the French have built on top of their native soil. The French "lost" their claim to motherland, while his long suffering Algerian mother[land] lives on, through the disruption, onwards to appropriation and deconstruction.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 241 comments Lia wrote: "My own interpretation is that he is signaling he reads Camus' "mother" as a stand in for "motherland," and Meursault's dead mother signals..."

That might fit with the female imagery that the narrator brings up when describing the city of Oran and the sea. You could be right about the mother symbolism, I don't know...

message 8: by Whitney (last edited Dec 17, 2018 08:27PM) (new)

Whitney | 2090 comments Mod
Bryan wrote: "This makes me think that Daoud is the listener--that that is who is being addressed, though, obviously we readers are in the voyeuristic position of overhearing. ..."

I like this interpretation. At one point Harun says something that implies the listener is Algerian, although I can't find it again. It being Daoud fits nicely.

message 9: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2090 comments Mod
Any preconceptions I had about this book were certainly confounded (in a good way). While an on the nose criticism of The Stranger as an example of colonialist thinking wouldn't have been unreasonable, I think Daoud did something far more subtle and interesting.

Meursault killed Musa out of his despair at the existential ennui he was mired in; a largely if not uniquely European condition in the mid 20th Century. Then Musa's murder started the events that led to Harun having the exact same mind-set as Meursault. This taking over of identity is the ultimate colonization. Adding to the irony is that the parallel events between the books include ones associated with Algerian independence. Meursault was condemned not for committing murder (no one cares about a dead Arab) but for being insufficiently upset by his mother's death. Harun isn't being questioned for his act of murder (no one cares about another dead Frenchman) but for his failure to join the resistance. At one point, Harun states " In the first days of Independence, death was as gratuitous, absurd, and unexpected as it had been on a sunny beach in 1942."

As the novel progresses, Harun more frequently parrots things said or experienced by Meursault. By the end of the book, in his rage at the imam, Harun is not only almost perfectly mimicking Meursault's rage at the Catholic Priest, but is confusing (or fusing) their identities into one. Some of the things he is shouting are direct quotes from The Stranger, others are changed slightly to match the parallel events from Harun's life, and in some cases he's mixing up the two - combining Marie (from The Stranger) with Meriem, for example.

I recommend reading the last 10 pages or so of The Stranger for appreciating how intertwined the two narratives become at the end, it's really well done.

message 10: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2597 comments Mod
Yes, I made the connection with The Fall too. I rather wish I had had time to reread The Outsider/Stranger/Etranger before reading this one, as I think quite a lot went over my head.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 241 comments I'm kind of with Hugh on this--I think a reread of The Stranger would have helped, but I still picked up on the parallels at the end.

I'm still puzzling a little bit at the end here--yes, I think there's a bit of the Achebe idea here...wanting to give the nameless man shot by Meursault a backstory and an identity rather than just a foil for the European problem; and there's also a kind of homage to The Stranger itself, as if Daoud wants to delineate the core ideas of Camus' book in a way that's acceptable to people who at first might have felt alienated because they perceived an exclusionary tone in The Stranger. Whitney mentions that Harun's eventual parallel with Meursault's situation is the ultimate colonization...that's an interesting point, but it could also be that Daoud felt that Algeria after Independence had given rise to the same conditions that engendered Camus' thinking. It might be a fine line--mental colonization or a common intellectual road?

At any rate--I'm still thinking over the book, and, like Whitney mentioned also, I was glad to have my preconceptions confounded.

message 12: by Lia (new)

Lia Bryan wrote: "Algeria after Independence had given rise to the same conditions that engendered Camus' thinking. It might be a fine line--mental colonization or a common intellectual road? ."

I’m on the side of common intellectual road. The costumes and governing bodies have changed, but the same casts, the same absurd condition persists.

message 13: by Lia (last edited Dec 19, 2018 07:00PM) (new)

“ I know, you’re eager to ask the type of questions I hate, but please listen to me instead”

I wonder what those questions are supposed to be.

“His world is clean, clear, exact, honed by morning sunlight, enhanced with fragrances and horizons.”

This is suspicious, Meursault is famously a creature of the dark, he is not himself in the sun! What are you doing to Camus’ novella?

“I’m going to take the stones from the old houses the colonists left behind, remove them one by one, and build my own house, my own language.”

...Whoa! I see what you did that, Daoud! You took someone else’s masterpiece, and made it your own! You modified it, and readers can no longer read the Stranger without your perspective, your twist.

You took what they took from you, and made it your own house.

message 14: by Lia (new)

My brother was the one who got shot, not him! It was Musa, not Meursault, see? ... Everyone was knocked out by the perfect prose, by language capable of giving air facets like diamonds, and everyone declared their empathy with the murderer’s solitude and offered him their most learned condolences.

This is even more suspicious. Camus can wrought really beautiful prose when he wants to — The Fall is case in point. But the Stranger is famously flat, unpoetic, journalistic even! I don’t think readers get seduced by the language, and whatever we are made to feel is probably not empathy with the murderer’s solitude, or condolences!

And I bet Douad knew that! Cheeky little @)($()@*)

He really is appropriating Camus’ tale, flying under the radar, a little tweak here, a little verbal game there: Meursault to Musa, Zujj ... well, Zujj in Algerian Arabic means two. Two o’clock, two of them, twin.

Douad is colonizing Camus.

message 15: by Lia (new)

Who knows Musa’s name today? Who knows what river carried him to the sea, which he had to cross on foot, alone, without his people, without a magic staff?

Musa is the Biblical Moses, isn’t he?

But why Moses?

message 16: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2090 comments Mod
Harun = Aaron. Aaron was the spokesman for Moses.

message 17: by Lia (new)

Lia Oh, wow, thanks Whitney, I didn’t know that!

message 18: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 2090 comments Mod
I read it in one of the reviews. My biblical knowledge of Moses doesn't extend much beyond Charlton Heston.

message 19: by Lia (new)

Lia Whew, I feel better ^_^;;; I’ve been thinking about reading the Bible ... as literature. This might just be the push I need.

Bryan--The Bee’s Knees (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 241 comments The Moses/Aaron connection slipped past me as well.

So, let's see, some free association--Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt, they wander for forty years in the desert; Moses disobeys God and is forbidden from entering the promised land, and Aaron assumes the role of leader.

Musa never sees the promised land of Independence, and leaves Harun behind to continue.

I don't know--I'm probably missing other things.

message 21: by Whitney (last edited Dec 20, 2018 07:20PM) (new)

Whitney | 2090 comments Mod
I interpreted it in a much simpler manner. Moses can't speak for himself, so it falls to Aaron to speak for him. Harun's entire life has been defined by the murder of his brother, and his concern (at least initially) was telling Musa's story, i.e being his spokesman. But, with your point, the story does become Harun's instead of Musa's, so that certainly fits as well.

message 22: by lark (new)

lark benobi (larkbenobi) | 201 comments Thank you for all these wonderful insights that I'm just reading now.

The most interesting thing to me about this novel as a work of art is how it creates interstitial meaning between the two books where neither is completely the same as before--once you read The Meursault Investigation you can't go back to the same reading of the Stranger. Or I can't anyway.

message 23: by Peter (last edited Dec 25, 2018 10:47AM) (new)

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Some reactions and comments, in no particular order:

1. Aaron is not only the High Priest, but Moses' brother.

2. Whitney's advice to reread the last 10 pages or so of the Outsider well taken. Thanks!

3. As noted in some of the reviews, aside from being a response or critique of The Outsider, this book can also be read as a critique of post-revolutionary Algerian society. It's a very efficient book, despite its short length.

4. At some points the narrator talks about Meursault leaving prison (page 53) and at others, being executed (page 55). Is this confusion or metaphor? I think it the latter -- Meursault may be dead, but his image lives on. (He also talks about Meursault being calm after his execution, which rather supports the idea.)

message 24: by Whitney (last edited Dec 25, 2018 11:20AM) (new)

Whitney | 2090 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "4. At some points the narrator talks about Meursault leaving prison (page 53) and at others, being executed (page 55). Is this confusion or metaphor? I think it the latter --.."

Good point, and I certainly agree with your interpretation. Throughout the book, Harun is balancing Meursault as actual person with Meursault as fictional character. I think it's a clever way of dealing with the story as well as the ongoing influence of L'Étranger (see how I'm cleverly bypassing translation questions here :-).

Did you read the interview with NPR that Marc posted in the 'General' thread? It sheds light on the ongoing influence of the book in Algeria, as well as Daoud's attitude towards it. One quote from the article:

"Does Daoud consider his novel a rebuttal to Camus? "I contradict him, but I also vindicate his position," he says. "You have to know that the status of Camus in Algeria today is extremely complex. He's at once both French and Algerian. He's both claimed by some people and rejected by others. And he's also someone who evokes an extremely painful moment in Algerian history."

message 25: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2592 comments Mod
So, GR decided not to give me updates over the holidays on this particular thread... Thus, I return, delighted to see such a spirited discussion has been going on all the while!

I re-read The Stranger after I finished this one and I expected to have more a reactive/judgmental response to it, like "yeah, damn you oppressor Camus and how dare you exploit 'the Arab' as a nameless body for your plot purposes" but it didn't quite feel that way at all. Daoud has taken that complexity Whitney quoted and created a rather unique kind of dialogue between the two books.

Peter, I think Daoud does some serious blurring of the lines on pg 53--it's like he tries to get the reader to take ownership of the book by calling it "your book" and "your writer's genius" and there are times when he uses the term "murderer" that I'm not sure if he's talking about Camus or Meursault.

Ironically, even in this book Musa is still a kind of pawn, or plot device (not only are "we" using him to "find [his] corpse and write [our] book", but Daoud is using him to rewrite Camus in part). The biggest difference is that he now has a name and some semblance of dignity/recognition as a person, and one who is loved and missed.

message 26: by Marc (new)

Marc (monkeelino) | 2592 comments Mod
The book describes the resistance as trying to "chase out all the Meursaults"--this seemed almost humorous to me--like the Algerians were just as guilty as Camus, and considered the French as a homogenous "other." A kind of reverse discrimination, if you will (or, you know, even if you won't).

back to top