The Meursault Investigation is a first novel from Algerian writer Kamel Daoud. It is an example of a postmodern subgenre well-represented by previously published works ranging from Mary Reilly to Wicked to Lady Macbeth. Sometimes called a “response novel” it is a genre in which the defining characteristic is that an already familiar story is told from the perspective of another character. This other character can be as significant as Lady Macbeth who needs no introduction to Mary Reilly who barely even qualifies as a minor character in the original story about Jekyll and Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The response in this particular case is to one of the most famous, critically acclaimed and academically studied novel of the 20th century. The Stranger, by Albert Camus, is one of the foundation works of existentialist literature. Daoud is not the first artist to be inspired to tell the story in a different way; the very first single ever released by The Cure, “Killing an Arab” features lyrics sung from the perspective of the novel’s protagonist, Meursault. The seemingly racist title is actually in keeping with the novel in which Camus presents the murderer as a subject of great existential angst whereas the victim is, well, just an Arab.
Flipping the story so that the murder is seen through the eyes of the culture of the victim rather than the murderer becomes the basis for pursuing the point of a response to another man’s work. Camus existential take on the act requires—in his eyes, at least—the victim doesn’t even get a name. Daoud rectifies that: the victim is Musa. As Arthur Miller so strikingly demonstrates in The Crucible, names have tremendous power of implication. Give a person a name and everything changes. Deny them a name and in a way you deny their entire existence.
Following its publication in 2013, the novel earned its several awards, including the prestigious 2015 Goncourt Prize for debut novels. In striking contrast, the novel’s critique of Islamic fundamentalism also earned its author a place alongside Salman Rushdie as a writer whose novel resulted in a fatwa declared against him. The death warrant was issued by an extremist radical Islamic holy man, but as of 2020 had yet to be carried out.