The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair
Author: Joel Dicker
Publisher: Maclehose Press
Publication date: May, 2014 (English)
ISBN: 978 08 570 5310 7
OK, this book has been bashed and praised in equal numbers, so it’s a hung jury. I am going with 5 out of 5 stars and for good reasons.
I am a big fan of whodunits and thrillers and hence the categorization of this novel as “literary thriller” was as arousing as it gets. That’s what drew me to reading the book, that and the dozens of awards it seems to have won. Once in, I couldn’t leave. The first few hundred pages flew by and before I knew it all 650+ pages were done.
The good points first:
This is a in-one-sitting book, it’s engrossing and keeps you turning page after page after page. Yes, it’s 650+ pages which is unheard of in thrillers, but The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is so much more than a thriller that you barely notice the word count. This is the most important thing about the book: the writing. Maintaining interest, suspense and a smooth unfolding over 650+ pages is no mean task and the book does just that.
The second thing that grips you is the setting: The small town is so cleverly set out with stock characters and stereotypes that it lulls you into a state of ease and then jolts you out of it. The characters are typical of any small village, friendly but incredibly nosy, these aren’t original characters but they remain with you. Tamara and Robert Quinn are standout secondary characters and you want to see more of them.
Third, despite a thoroughly distasteful victim (Harry Quebert) who was in his mid thirties when he fell in love with a 15 year old girl (and on first sight no less) being defended by a narcissist of a writer who is surprisingly as cardboard as it gets, we care about the story. Not the characters, but the story. Therein lies Joel Dicker’s mastery in keeping us frantically turning pages while battling sleep.
Now for the problem areas:
The protagonist Marcus Goldman is a super famous writer who becomes an amateur detective and unravels a mystery that took place before he was even born. Reminds you of the TV show Castle, doesn’t it?
Literally everyone is connected in some way or the other to the event and that’s where it gets difficult to suspend disbelief. Also the precision and confidence with which people talk about events that took place 33 years ago is unnatural to say the least
Projecting the book as literary fiction sets a wrong expectation. It’s not literary fiction, not by a long shot. The writing is crisp and the smooth flow shows a seasoned hand, but it’s a crime thriller, not literature. Many of those who have rated the book poorly have done so because they felt misled by the claims.
Too many flashbacks and moving to and fro between present day and 33 years earlier is a bit taxing but masterfully done. You don’t get lost but you do get a little irked by the repetition of information. Almost every character recounts in some detail what happened 33 years ago. Reminds me of the film Vantage Point where 8 people describe the assassination of the American president, it gets tiresome after a point.
The verdict despite these minor irritants is that the book is highly recommended. It is clever, unassuming, and quite stimulating. You will be transported to the small town of Somerset and you will not want to come out long after you have finished all of those 650+ pages.