Review: Joel Dicker – The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

It takes a talented writer to write convincingly about a country that they aren’t native to. German Truth_About_Harry_Quebert-206x320writer, 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.

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20 thoughts on “Review: Joel Dicker – The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

  1. Sarah – I keep hearing good things about this one. I’m not one for having to suspend disbelief too much, but the rest of the story sounds like a really fine read. And it’s true; it takes a real skill to write convincingly about a place if one’s not from that place.

  2. I so wanted to like this, but I’m really struggling. Too much reportage, cliche and improbable actions. I could go on. Just not doing it for me. Mind you, it has had some cracking reviews. There’s always room for varying opinions, right?

  3. Oh, no. This is in my TBR pile and seriously thought about reading it very soon. Not sure if I can deal with too many coincidences. Not totally crossed off, but may have slipped a few places down the ‘chart’!

  4. I totally agree it’s a page-turner, but I think it is not THE best-seller they’re trying to sell us. I reviewed it a month after finishing it and I could barely remember who had done it. I was also very shocked by Nora. I know a young, European man is behind her as a character, but if left me wondering if such a kind of woman is what contemporary men find suitable for crime ficiton.

    • Interesting, Elena. I hadn’t really thought about this but you’re right that Nola is a disturbing character. As I mentioned in my review there are shades of Lolita in the book. Now I think of it, none of the female characters come across particularly well.

      • There’s a joke at my gender studies center that you can never ever enjoy another mainstream production after taking a few courses on women’s representation in fiction and I’m afraid it’s more than a joke.

        I haven’t read Lolita, but I do know the story, so I didn’t go much into it. Are more Lolita things apart from the affair?

        And I got so angry reading this book because of the female characters. The writer is a man, I get that, but he is European, young, seems well educated… What is wrong with our society, then?

  5. Yes, I was disappointed by this book because it has been so hyped-up in France. But if you come to it without any expectations, I bet you’ll have to keep reading until the end.

  6. This is one of those I would probably try… eventually… if it were not so long. And I am reading more long books this year and enjoying them. But this is too iffy to commit to.

  7. Pingback: Iceland Noir 2014 Round-Up | crimepieces

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