The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, by Joël Dicker

>> Thursday, February 09, 2017

TITLE: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
AUTHOR: Joël Dicker

PAGES: 643

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Fiction

August 30, 1975: the day fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan is glimpsed fleeing through the woods, never to be heard from again; the day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence.

Thirty-three years later, Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist, visits Somerset to see his mentor, Harry Quebert, one of the country’s most respected writers, and to find a cure for his writer’s block as his publisher’s deadline looms. But Marcus’s plans are violently upended when Harry is suddenly and sensationally implicated in the cold-case murder of Nola Kellergan—whom, he admits, he had an affair with. As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues through his mentor’s books, the backwoods and isolated beaches of New Hampshire, and the hidden history of Somerset’s citizens and the man they hold most dear. To save Harry, his own writing career, and eventually even himself, Marcus must answer three questions, all of which are mysteriously connected: Who killed Nola Kellergan? What happened one misty morning in Somerset in the summer of 1975? And how do you write a book to save someone’s life?
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair puzzled me. I've heard so much about it. It's supposed to be this amazing, twisty mystery, really well-written. Well, what the hell, it was plain TERRIBLE!

The book is about a young novelist, Marcus Goldman, who wrote a really successful first book and is having a lot of trouble writing his second. He's visiting his mentor, Harry Quebert, in his house in a small town in New Hampshire, when everything goes to hell. A body is found buried in Harry's garden, and it turns out to be that of a 15-year-old girl who disappeared over 30 years earlier. Even worse, evidence is found with the body that makes it clear she and Harry were having an affair when she disappeared. Marcus decides he is the only one who can save Harry, and that writing a book about it is the way to do it.

I'll give you my top three reasons why this was one of the worst books I've tried to read in a long, long time:

First, I was being told by both Marcus (bad enough) and the narrative (even worse) that this affair between a 35-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl with some real mental health issues was this amazing love story, rather than the abusive relationship it seemed to me. Dicker didn’t think he needed to do any work to justify this, it just was. It didn't work (to say the least).

Second, Marcus is just horrendous. He's this braggart who thinks he's wonderful but is actually nothing special. Insufferable is the word for him. This is not necessarily a problem if that's what the character is meant to be, but the narrative seemed to believe the hype and assume that of course we readers were on his side and loved him to pieces. I didn't.

Third, the writing. It was painful, to the point of being embarrassing. I think I knew I was done when Dicker had the main character’s mum saying “Come home! I’ll make you hot dogs and apple pie!”. Because that’s what American mothers are like. No, sorry. Now, although the book is set in the US, Dicker is Swiss, and the book was originally written in French. I'm willing to give Dicker the benefit of a very small amount of doubt, since some of the issues with the writing might have been due to the translation. The issues around pacing, characterisation, and many, many more, however, are all Dicker, and made this intolerably bad.

I just can't get my head round the success of this one.



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