Most Western readers know the story of Meursault, a French Algerian who, upon learning of his mother’s death, returns home for her funeral. Though the funeral leaves him unmoved, he subsequently embarks upon a spree of sex and violence that lands him on death row. Laurence Miall’s debut novel isn’t a cover version of L’Étranger, but you can hear Camus playing in the background.
Having lost both his parents in a tragic accident, the novel’s protagonist, Luke, returns to his childhood home of Edmonton to wind up their affairs with the help of his sister. Luke does not cry at the funeral, finding the service to be full of anonymous banality, the bodies tucked away “as if in a warehouse.” In any event, he was a less than model son, and had been estranged from both parents for years. He doesn’t care much that they’re dead.
Like Meursault, Luke is a “lone wolf,” someone dangerously unattached to anyone. Discovery of an extramarital affair his mother was carrying on only sours him further. He falls out with his sister, quits his job, breaks up with his girlfriend (with whom he was bored anyway), and starts a rocky relationship with a grad student he seems to want only as a sounding board.
It’s clear to everyone else what Luke’s problems are – primarily he’s a selfish jerk. For his own part, Luke’s failings remain a rather large blind spot. He is a failed bourgeois anti-hero, spiralling into a career of middling solipsism. The plot lurches toward a crisis, one less spectacular than Camus’s – we don’t execute amoralists anymore.
The first-person narrator who unconsciously gives himself away is a tricky device to handle, but Miall acquits himself with surprising skill. Luke comes across as pathetic even in his self-pity; his sense of generational angst, inability to experience happiness, and ironic flashes of self-awareness are nicely drawn. Blind Spot is the memorable story of a minor failure, made all the more powerful by its honesty and restraint.