The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is a bestseller, having sold 2 million copies and been translated into 18 languages. The author is swiss ,Joel Dicker, and this is his first novel. He is not yet 30 – a startling career beckons, or does it? The novel begins with a writer Marcus Goldman, the same age as the author, who has had one enormous success but suffers from writer’s block and cannot produce another. In desperation he turns to his college mentor Harry Quebert, whose novel The Origins of Evil was both a critical and commercial success. Quebert was romantically involved with a 15 year old girl, Nola Kerrigan, who disappeared. Whilst Goldman is staying with him, her corpse is dug up in Quebert’s garden and he is the prime suspect. Goldman comes to write a novel detailing the affair and criminal investigation. It’s very much like those Russian dolls: novel within a novel, within a novel. It is extremely well-plotted, with numerous twists, but it is either appallingly written or translated.
Dicker really only has two adjectives: “beautiful” or “wonderful”. It reached the point that if I read one of these words any more I would throw up or give up. The flatness of the writing contrasted withe tempo of the plot. So, intrigued what might happen, I stuck with it and I’m pleased I did as he wraps up the novel satisfyingly well.
As much as a criminal investigation, it’s a novel about writing and publishing. One of the most credible characters is the venal CEO of the publishing house Roy Bernaski. The struggle to get out a novel is well expressed. However, one encounters a credibility problem when two popular writers cannot write. Worse, Quebert pontificates Confucius-style on writing, which for some reason he sees as analogous to boxing. The two frequently box each other.I am sure it will make a very good film and someone has already acquired the film rights. I always enjoy casting but here it’s difficult because of the time difference of 33 years between the disappearance and discovery. I could see Alec Baldwin and William Hurt as the two police officers; Scarlette Johansen as Nola; Viggo Mortensen as Harry Quebert and Ben Stiller as Goldman.
Of course I am a reviewer, not a publisher, and no doubt the CEO of the publishing house in the style of Bernaski will say “Stick to your formula, well-written books are lucky if they sell 5000, satisfy your loyal readership, we are in business, not patrons of the arts.”