In fact, Meriem is writing her thesis on Meursault’s book, just like the interlocutor. She waits until Mama has left to show Harun the book, which is small and well-designed. Harun is struck by the murderer’s name written on the front, but he’s also distracted by the closeness of a strange woman. Later, Meriem tells Harun that she is from Constantine; she asserts her independence fiercely, and he can tell she has developed this persona in defiance of a conservative family.
Although Harun doesn’t know much about Meriem’s background, he imagines her in opposition to a conservative, possibly religious family. This fuels the anti-religious beliefs he will come to hold, and perhaps inspires his future speech to the imam in which he says that religious dogma is nothing compared to his feelings for Meriem. Meriem causes him to understand love as directly opposed to religion.
Meriem leaves Harun with the book. Mama is astonished to know that the details of Musa’s murder have been written down all this time. However, Harun thinks her awe is unmerited—the book is just the product of another man, not “some god.” He thinks that they should feel stupid and ashamed that everyone knew the murderer’s story except the two “pitiful natives” closest to it.
The next day, Mama has developed hostile feelings towards Meriem and warns Harun not to let her in if she returns. However, he just leaves the house without coffee and waits for Meriem at the Hadjout train station. He says that he wants to know more about the book, and they embark on a long walk. This becomes their regular happiness for the next few months, which feel like “centuries” to Harun.
During his affair with Meriem, Harun defies Mama for the first time. This is interesting because just months before, at the moment of the murder, he describes himself as bound to obey Mama’s will. The revelation that he can disobey her quite easily suggests that, although he won’t admit it, he too wanted to kill Joseph.
Finally, Harun is experiencing all the wonder and astonishment of love that “Mama’s vigilance had always managed to neutralize.” He can’t even describe the process of love now. Meursault’s book, and later many other books, form the pretext of their affair as Meriem patiently teaches Harun about literature. When he tries to hold her hands, she laughs but doesn’t pull away.
It’s clear that Meriem is the more powerful person in this relationship, and this power partly depends on education and language. Because she is a teacher, she has the freedom to move around independently of her family, which Harun lacks.
When Harun reads Meursault’s book for the first time, he’s enthralled; he feels both “insulted and revealed to myself.” He can’t come to grips with how beautiful the writing is, but he also can’t believe that Musa’s name is absent from the entire work. Contrary to his hopes, he can’t learn anything about his brother from the book, although he can “see into the murderer’s soul.”
As an increasingly educated and intellectual young man, Harun identifies with Meursault’s writing; however, as an Algerian Arab like Musa, he feels sidelined by the novel. He represents the dilemma of all marginalized people that want to interact with the artistic world but also feel it discriminates against them.
Harun feels that the whole book is “a perfect joke.” Instead of teaching him about Musa, it shows him “his own reflection”; he realizes that he and Meursault are incredibly similar, down their mutual wish to be tried and sentenced for their crimes.
Knowing that she will become obsessed with it, Harun doesn’t show Mama the book. He also hides his meetings with Meriem. They always spend the day walking around the town or lying under a tree. He tells Meriem everything about his childhood and Musa’s death; the only thing he hides is the murder he’s committed. In turn, she brings him other books to read so he can understand Meursault’s writing and worldview. He doesn’t understand everything, but he grows more and more in love with Meriem.
While school is Harun’s first step towards independence, it’s Meriem who really introduces him to the world of storytelling. Although he wants to be close to her, Harun can’t bring himself to reveal the murder that is becoming increasingly central to his identity.
Harun always knows their affair will end, but he wants to keep it going as long as possible. He believes that Meriem was amused by him until she realized how truly despairing and depressed he was. Or perhaps he just eventually stopped being entertaining to her. Just as Harun was feeling more confident in his affections, she stopped coming to Hadjout forever. Ever since then, Harun has found himself betraying every woman he’s been involved with.
It’s clear that Harun’s sense of betrayal at Meriem’s hands prevents him from having healthy relationships later on. This is similar to the way Mama’s grief over Musa’s death prevents her from being a good parent. In both cases, traumatic experiences lead to self-destructive behavior.
One day while Harun is lying under a tree with Meriem, he leans over and kisses her. When he sits up, he feels that the sky is especially brilliant. Meriem lies with her head on his thighs until it grows too hot, and then they walk away wrapped in each other’s arms. When they get to the train station, Harun asks Meriem if she’ll marry him; he’s hurt by her look of surprise. She asks if he loves her, and he answers that he doesn’t know how to say it in words, “but when I was silent, it became obvious in my head.”
This is basically the culmination of Harun’s affair with Meriem. Even though their relationship is founded on literature, words become inadequate when Harun wants to express his deepest feelings, showing the ultimate limits of language.
Harun remarks that the interlocutor is smiling, and admits that actually he made this anecdote up. He could never have said such a thing because Meriem’s confidence and sophistication intimidated him. Self-assured and independent women have mostly disappeared from Algeria today, he says.
Here, Harun has used storytelling to obscure the truth—if only on this small matter—rather than illuminate it.
After Harun realizes that Meriem has gone for good, he smashes all the dishes in the house while Mama watches calmly. When Meriem writes Harun letters, he answers angrily; eventually their correspondence drifts off. He still sometimes waits for her at the train station.
Mama sees Meriem’s departure as a solidification of her control over her son, hence her smug calmness. However, Harun becomes even more distanced and resentful of her as a result.
Harun tells the interlocutor that this may be their last meeting and tells him to summon the “bottle ghost” again. When the ghost comes over, it becomes apparent that he is deaf and mute, but can read lips. He says that the ghost should read Meursault’s book, which will be more interesting than his newspapers.
Throughout the last several chapters, Harun has flirted with the idea of sharing his story with the ghost. Now it becomes clear that because of his disability, the ghost is incapable of listening at all. This small anticlimax hints at the futility of Harun’s entire storytelling project.