The Meursault Investigation

By Kamel Daoud

In 1942, Albert Camus’ The Outsider was published, creating a work that has since become a literary phenomenon. The novel, which often appears in listings of the Top 50 must-read books of all time, has transcended beyond the iconic. It has sparked endless debate on the mindset and motivation of its sociopathic central character, who becomes the unlikely perpetrator of the murder of an innocent, nameless Arab man on a beach in Algiers.

Over 70 years on, comes a powerful response from Algerian journalist and author Kamel Daoud, whose masterful polemic, The Meursault Investigation, provides a compelling Algerian perspective on one of the biggest crimes in modern fiction.

In this incendiary novel, which is brave, audacious and often downright angry, Daoud puts a name, a character and life to the fictional man murdered by Camus’ protagonist Meursault. Powerfully, he paints the hopes, frailties and day-to-day frustrations suffered by the Arab community under French colonial rule. This provides us with an immediate and wider context of what happened and why – to the Arab and his family. But perhaps most importantly, the Arab man killed by Meursault in the blinding sun on a beach one afternoon is given a name, an identity and a soul. He is called Musa (Moses). The story is told by his surviving brother Harun.

In light of the rapidly changing political landscape witnessed by the Arab Spring offensive across many North African countries, this timely riposte to Camus’ novel – written when the impacts of French colonial rule pervaded every aspect of Algerian life – provides an unsettling prick to the collective conscience. And yet, despite the inevitable French retreat, Harun remains cynical about the longer term achievements of longed-for independence. He wearily describes the liberated capital as “an outdated actress left over from the days of revolutionary theatre.”

The Meursault Investigation is an unsettling read on so many levels and all the more rewarding because of this. Daoud creates a book which attempts to set the record straight, but in doing so betrays a wider cynicism about the prospect of anticipated change making a lasting difference.

For maximum impact, read The Outsider first, then this. Daoud’s novel is an undoubted classic, as much as the first.

Tom Warman

The Meursault Investigation was first published in Algeria in 2013.

The Loney

By Andrew Michael Hurley

When a debut novel, which loosely falls into the genre of horror, attracts the attention of none other than Stephen King (arguably the grandmaster of this form), curiosity gets the better of you.

Such was the disturbing power of Manchester author Andrew Hurley's bleak and haunting novel that I fell under its spell more than I initially cared to admit. Having been brought up in a household with more than a passing reverence for God and the practice of regular prayer and worship, this cleverly observed story of a church group outing – to an isolated house for an Easter retreat of healing and fellowship – touched a raw nerve.

The sparse landscape of the Lancashire coast provides a drab, barren setting for a small group of worshippers from London who return to The Loney with a gamut of doomed expectations and hope. This is all referenced back to their precious sojourn to this age-old property, previously accompanied by their now deceased priest.

Sadly, their new Father, who shepherds a loyal coterie of worshippers to The Loney, compares unfavourably with his predecessor. His secret predilection for drinking and worldly take on ethics does not go down well.

Therefore, comparisons with the group’s previous visit and their fatalistic anticipation of unlikely miracles set him up for inevitable failure. Indeed, as the retreat unfolds he comes to oversee a disastrous succession of events which bring tensions to the fore among the 'pilgrims'. They encounter a sinister resistance from the locals who have their own rituals and symbols to help them make sense of their remote, isolated ‘world’.

Narrated from the perspective of an older man recalling his traumatic visit as a child in the 1970s, The Loney is a powerful homage to the horror genre. Hurley plays with a range of themes – faith, ritual, forgiveness, human frailty and superstition in a story that holds on to its ultimate secret right to the end. This is a book that will haunt you long after you put it down.

Tom Warman