Book Review: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

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If the publishers have their way then The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker is going to be everywhere this summer as having been translated from its original French it’s finally getting published at the beginning of May. There have been newspaper articles about it, online book sites have been getting ready for its arrival and now it’s arrived on sites such as Netgalley then bloggers such as myself have been given the chance to read and review it. Does it live up to the hype? Can it live up to the hype?

The first thing I need to say is that The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair was originally written in French and arrives in English courtesy of a wonderful and sympathetic translation by Sam Taylor, there weren’t any occasions where the language clunked or jarred, indeed there were passages that ached with beauty and sadness and this is a book that shouldn’t be rushed. The book starts with the publication of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair and it’s author Marucs Goldberg walking through the streets of New York, the darling of literary scene from there we travel back and forward in time to Somerset in New Hampshire – Jones suffering from writer’s block has gone to his old college professor, mentor and successful author Harry Quebert to try and work through it and shortly after leaving Somerset having unsuccessfully address his issues the body of a fifteen year old girl Nola Kellergan who went missing some 35 years previously is found in the garden of Harry’s house – Goldberg knows that this girl is someone who Harry had fallen in love with and after her disappearance his book The Origin of Evil had been published to great success, what transpires is that this book was a disguised account of Harry and Nola’s affair and when this news breaks the book is pulled form shelves and schools across Amercia. Following Harry’s arrest Goldberg travels back to Somerset to defend his friend and to investigate what happened all those years before. This investigation becomes his way back into writing and as he digs deeper the people of Somerset reveal secrets that have lain hidden since Nola vanished. Goldberg faces hostility, threats and the realisation that what he thought he knew about his friend might not necessarily be the truth.

At times The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair reads like a Stephen King book about small town life and I was also reminded of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ with the explorations of guilt, love and small town university life. (Images from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet also seemed to regularly pop into my head) Without reading the original French – for which I’m woefully under qualified – it would be difficult to know if this is a deliberate act of homage or whether the translator added these stylistic flourishes but despite or maybe because of them I enjoyed this book from start to finish – one proviso is coming though – and the pace of the book was sublime. This is a book which slowly speeds up, it’s a gradual thing and as I read the story I hardly noticed that I as getting more and more engrossed in it and as I finally reached the point where the we find out what happened all those years ago I a) realised I’d been reading for hours, b) didn’t see the ending coming and c) was moved by what happened.

I like it when books do that to me.

The sections of the book that didn’t quite work for me were the ones to do with the world of book publishing. There have been satires about that world before and it did seem that Joel Dicker was attempting to satirise that world too but he resorted to under developed caricatures of people – the fair-weather agent, the unrequited love of the secretary and the evil publisher himself always threatening to sue his successful writer and offering to deploy a team of ghost writers to make sure the book got written – maybe these things do happen but in the context of this book they didn’t quite ring true.

I mentioned a proviso and it’s this; there are too many twists! This might have been because The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a multilayered story and each one needed a resolution but they didn’t half come thick and fast as the book reached its climax. Whilst I enjoy the metaphorical carpet getting pulled from beneath me in a thriller they just kept on happening and when the all important big reveal about what actually really did, no I mean this time, honestly, this is it, happen to NG then it was such a blessed relief that I had to re-read the relevant section again just to make sure that I’d understood it and that nobody else was going to say they’d killed Nola.

It’s a minor issue that I had with The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – because overall it’s a wonderful read. It is very sad in places, Dicker writes about love, loss and grieving in a manner which is warm and touching and this book did move me at times. The book is also about friendship and how at times you have to choose what is important to you and if you can choose friendship over everything else even if that might mess things up. Dicker writes about people who chose to stay in the small town, who chose to make do and no go after the love of their life and how the consequences of those actions can reverberate for decades of not for the rest of someone’s life.

Does The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair live up to the hype? I’m going to answer that by saying that I hope that the hype doesn’t overwhelm the book and that people don’t pick up the thing thinking it’s going to be an easy throwaway read for the beach. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a difficult book but you do need to concentrate, I think you’ll be reading back over certain passages to ensure that it makes sense but I think you’ll love it – I know I did.

Thanks to Quercus for sending me a copy of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair to read.

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