Two more Christmas gifts. The Stranger by Albert Camus and The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, the second being a reply to the first.
I always though The Stranger is a longer book, also that it would be difficult to read, I was wrong on both accounts. The book reads great, so great actually that half-way through I decided to start again because I thought I must be missing something. I will not delve here into the philosophical background, because for me the book’s strength sits within the book itself, not necessarily the context.
The story is well known and both books tell two sides of it- Mersault killing the Arab on an Algiers beach on a hot day. The Stranger is narrated by Mersault, who seems to live in emotional void after his mother dies (and maybe even before that, but we get to know him when she dies). He goes through life without taking much in, he looks at the world from outside, but barely lets it inside. His relationship with Maria is based only on physical desire from his side. What surprised me is the casual cruelty of the world described in the book and the nonchalance with which Mersault accepts it without breaking stride. His neighbour constantly kicks and beats his dog (I’m a softie when it comes to animals), and everyone either ignores it or finds it funny. His other neighbour plans to humiliate his ex-lover and Mersault actually actively helps him do that. One day Mersault is on a beach, it is hot, he has a flashback to his mother funeral and he ends up killing an Arab. He is arrested and tried, but the entire case seems to be missing the point, they try to judge him on his morality and whether he is a bad man because he didn’t cry at his mother funeral, rather than the obvious fact of him killing a man. The victim seems completely inconsequential.
Mersault tells us his story, but without letting his guard down, he keeps his distance to the world and to us.
The Mersault Investigation is different and similar at the same time. The narrator is the brother of the man Mersault killed, as he notes the name is never mentioned in the book, the victim is constantly called the Arab. This is one of many things Harun cannot forgive Mersault.
Harun tells his story when he is older, he meets his listener in a bar and bit by bit tells him his life’s story and how Mersaults thoughtless act changed and shaped it. Harun attacks Mersault and yet is very similar, he is passionate, but he tells his life from a distance, his story becomes a parable of the fate of Algeria, the colonialism, the liberation, enthusiasm and disappointment. As much as Harun despises Mersault and people fascinated by him and stands against everything Mersaults personifies, Harun also gradually becomes very similar to Mersault and he realizes this as he tells his story – he is a mirror for Mersault, he lost himself, or maybe never really had himself since that day on the beach.
The Mersault Investigation plays and interacts with The Stranger on every level including the characters habits, each of them hating one specific day of the week, the book structure, all the way down to the opening sentence. It is an interesting game and one that has many more layers to be discovered with every re-reading. I do believe that those books should be read together, their dialogue brings a lot more out of them.
Did you read any of them? What were your thoughts?