It takes a talented writer to write convincingly about a country that they aren’t native to. German writer, Charlotte Link, wrote the excellent The Other Child based in the north east of England and now Joel Dicker has written a tale set in New Hampshire that could easily have been written by a US writer.
Harry Quebert is a writer famous for his 1970s novel, The Origin of Evil. His protege, Marcus Goldman, discovers that the book was based on Quebert’s love affair with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan who mysteriously disappeared from the town one night. When her body is discovered, along with a copy of the original manuscript of Harry’s famous book, conservative America is shocked as much by the idea of a Lolita style affair as the girl’s murder. When Harry is arrested for the crime, Marcus takes it on himself to prove his mentor’s innocence. But secrets emerge that cast doubt on the accounts of all concerned.
I read the book on a recommendation of a friend whose judgement I trust. And it is an excellent page turner. In many ways, the novel is difficult to categorise. The gradual revealing of events that happened in a small inward looking community reminded me a little of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and I suspect the book is being promoted to that market. It might have been the New Hampshire setting but I was also reminded of John Irving’s books such is the slightly unreal quality of the narrative.
At 624 pages, it’s a long book but the twists and turns of the plot kept me riveted. It was only at the end that I was left with a slightly cheated air. There are a series of slightly unbelievable coincidences. I can can forgive one in a book, in fact they are often unavoidable in a crime novel, but the reader has to seriously suspend disbelief here. But, for a debut novel, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is a stunner and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from Joel Dicker.
Many thanks to Maclehose Press for my review copy. The translation is by Sam Taylor.