What’s it all about?:
August 30, 1975. The day of the disappearance. The day a small New Hampshire town lost its innocence.
That summer Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Thirty-three years later, her body is dug up from his yard along with a manuscript copy of his career-defining novel. Quebert is the only suspect.
Marcus Goldman – Quebert’s most gifted protégé – throws off his writer’s block to clear his mentor’s name. Solving the case and penning a new bestseller soon blur together. As his book begins to take on a life of its own, the nation is gripped by the mystery of ‘The Girl Who Touched the Heart of America’. But with Nola, in death as in life, nothing is ever as it seems.
Joël Dicker’s phenomenal European bestseller is a brilliantly intricate murder mystery, a hymn to the boundless reaches of the imagination, and a love story like no other. Nothing you’ve read or even felt before can prepare you for The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair.
What did I think?:
I have so much to say about this book so forgive me now dear readers if this review goes on too long (or becomes rambling in any way!). The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair has been a publishing phenomenon, first printed in French it won a ton of prizes including the prestigious Grand Prix du Roman L’Académie Française in 2012. It has been translated into 32 different languages, sold more than two million copies and has become the most talked about French book of the last decade. In Britain, his book is being sold with the tag line “Switzerland’s coolest export since Roger Federer.” Learning all this, the book certainly had a lot to live up to!
Our main character is Marcus Goldman, a novelist in his own right who published his debut novel to worldwide critical acclaim but is now struggling with the pressures of a second novel to match the success of his first. He decides to contact Harry Quebert, his mentor when he was at school and a very successful novellist whose own debut novel The Origin Of Evil sold copies by the truck load on release and is still selling well today. Harry is delighted to help his former protégé and after some catching up time he admits one of his deepest, darkest secrets to Marcus. In 1975, when he was still a struggling writer, he met and fell in love with a fifteen year old girl called Nola Kellergan who inspired his best-selling novel. This is not the worst part however. After spending about three months in each others company, hiding themselves away from the prying eyes of the small town they inhabit, Nora disappeared. Thirty -three years later, Harry is still waiting for her return and has no idea what ever happened to her.
Unfortunately for Harry, he does not have to wait for long. The bones of Nora clutching a manuscript copy of his novel are found in the back yard of the house he has been renting and still lives in. Incriminating evidence points to Harry as the number one suspect in her death and he is arrested and remanded in custody. His friend Marcus does not believe the charges and is determined to clear Harry’s name by finding out the real perp behind the murder. With world-wide attention on the developing story, Marcus slowly comes to realise that this could be a lucrative opportunity to base his second book on his friends case. As more secrets are revealed about Harry, Nola and the inhabitants of the small town, Marcus discovers that no-one is who they appear to be and after receiving threats ordering him to dismiss his little project, it could be a very dangerous time to go digging around in the past.
So now, my thoughts. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that kept swaying my opinion so much. The plot was excellent and the story-line involving an older man and a teenage girl was quite controversial so I was eager to see how it would all pan out. At no point however did I ever believe the relationship between Harry and Nola. The dialogue was clunky and constantly read as if it was a child communicating with their parent which for me, made the relationship all the creepier for it. Nola’s back story is interesting enough and there are a lot of twists and turns involving her character, the new “Sweetheart Of America” but she came across like a ten year old, constantly crying and telling Harry he was “beastly” to her. So why was it he was attracted to her again? Ugh, shiver goes down my spine! In one scene with Marcus he shouts “I am not a child killer!.” Er, doesn’t he mean woman? No…. he actually is aware of the fact that he is in love with a child.
A lot of the characters were quite unlikeable, including Marcus who at school was known as “Marcus The Magnificent,” for his accomplishments. The fact that he would do anything to take another competitor down was disgusting and made me resent him almost from the onset. This did I have to admit though, make him intensely readable, along with the other minor characters that all seemed to bring something to the table. There’s Jenny, the waitress in love with Harry in 1975 who finds a piece of his writing that makes her think that he is also in love with her. Actually, it’s something he’s written about Nola. Cringe! Thirty-three years later she still carries a torch for Harry, despite being married to the Chief of Police and that makes things slightly awkward but very enjoyable to read – almost like you’re seeing a bomb about to explode but are rooted to the spot, paralysed and unable to move. The banter between Marcus and the detective in charge of Harry’s case is amusing to read but please, I just have to say – when exactly in the real world would a writer, especially one so close to the suspect, be allowed to participate or gather evidence in a murder case? It just wouldn’t happen! Also, how does he conveniently manage to get information out of everyone he talks to? Entertaining yes, but just in no shape or form believable.
There are a plethora of characters in the small town and I enjoyed the tid-bits and information we were fed by the author giving us a variety of individuals that have a motive for murdering Nola Kellergan. My favourite had to be the awful Tamara, Jenny’s mother who is desperate to set her daughter up with Harry Quebert for the notoriety that having an author as a son-in-law would bring. She has some controversial and hilarious moments, two of which I’ve included for you as an example of her hideous character:
“But she did have to scold Robert, who was wearing a shirt and tie but had not yet put on his pants – because on Sundays he was allowed to read the newspaper in his underwear in the living room; he liked it when the draft from the open windows blew inside his underparts because that cooled him down, particularly his hairy parts, and he found that very pleasant.”
“She shuddered at the thought: her Jenny with a black man. She was instantly gripped with anxiety: Many great writers were Jews; what if Quebert was a Jew? Maybe even a socialist Jew! It was too bad that Jews could look white, because that made them invisible. At least blacks had the honesty to be black, so they could be easily identified. But Jews were sly….. “Hello, Mr Quebert! Welcome! Would you like a ham sandwich?” Greeting her, Harry helped himself to a ham sandwich. Seeing her guest eat, Tamara felt a sweet wave of relief wash over her. He was the perfect man: neither a black or a Jew.”
See what I mean?! So, I’m going to try and sum up this book. It’s definitely an entertaining read that managed to keep me gripped for over 600 pages which is why I’ve given it the rating I have. I don’t really agree with the comparisons to Roth, it’s no literary marvel but perhaps a lot of the dialogue that I had a problem with was lost in translation? It’s a book that kept me turning the pages and the variety of characters that we have was a big plus point for the book as it made it so interesting and fresh. There were so many twists by the end of the book that some readers may feel a bit dizzy and struggle to fit the pieces together about what actually happened and there was a fair bit of repetition which made the book longer than perhaps it should have been but at least it wasn’t predictable. Despite the problems I did have with this novel it’s something a bit different, amusing with an intricate puzzle to solve. Just don’t expect fireworks.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):