The idea behind Algerian Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation is to my mind a 5* one. Harun, the brother of the unnamed man murdered in Camus’ great classic The Outsider tells of the effects of the murder on him and his mother. But does the execution of the idea match the quality of the idea itself? I’m glad to say that I think on the whole it does. This is what the narrator, Harun, has to say about that famous book:
“I read it twenty years ago and it overwhelmed me with its sublime lying and its magical accord with my life. A strange story, isn’t it? Let’s summarize: We have a confession, written in the first person, but we have no other evidence to prove Meursault’s guilt; his mother never existed, for him least of all; Musa (Harun’s brother) was an Arab replaceable by a thousand others of his kind, or by a crow, even, or a reed, or whatever else … What can you do with a man who meets you on a desert island and tells you that yesterday he killed a certain Friday? Nothing.”
Harun, weaves a tale which is both highly personal and political, taking in Algeria’s war of independence and its aftermath. Read the book back to back with The Outsider and revel as the once colonized and powerless grabs the narrative back from the settler and makes his story the one that matters. Oh, I do so like it when that happens!
For another book which takes a fictional character and runs with it read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, a prequel to Jane Eyre. This time it is Bertha, Rochester’s mad wife, who is given a voice. In this book she is called Antoinette Cosway, a white Creole heiress who meets Rochester in Jamaica. Here an explanation is given for her madness – his unfaithfulness and lack of belief in her, her forced relocation to England where her feelings of displacement and paranoia tip over into madness. It is a highly sympathetic portrayal of a woman who struggles to find any sense of belonging either with the white Europeans or the black Jamaicans. Incidentally, in this book Rochester is unnamed just as ‘the Arab’ is unnamed in The Outsider. It’s a brilliant piece of writing and one of my favourite books.
To sum up read The Meursault Investigation for a post-colonial response to The Outsider and Wide Sargasso Sea for both a post-colonial and feminist response to Jane Eyre.
Incidentally, a fictional character that I think deserves a novel all to herself (she may already have one) is Mrs Danvers in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. What was going on with that woman? It would definitely be fun to write her back story!
Have you read The Mersault Investigation or Wide Sargasso Sea? What did you think?