Review by Ann McDonald
‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ is a fast-paced, tightly plotted, cinematic literary thriller, and an ingenious book within a book, by a dazzling young writer.
Author Joël Dicker was born in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1985. His novel was originally written in French but was translated into English by Sam Taylor, a novelist and journalist. It’s a good translation but at times, the nuances of the Somerset, New Hampshire dialect is missing but on the whole, it’s good. This novel won the Grand Prix du Roman from the Académie française.
The book is a story within a story about two writers, Harry Quebert and Marcus Goldman, Quebert being the friend and mentor of Marcus. Marcus is suffering from writer’s block and is terrified he is just a one-book wonder but Harry persuades him to leave New York and join him in Somerset, New Hampshire. Harry is the author of ‘The Origins of Evil’, a book that has made him the ‘Author of the Century’. Harry decides to plant some hydrangeas on the edge of his property when the skeletal remains of a young girl is uncovered. In her hand, she is clutching a leather-bound satchel with the original manuscript of ‘The Origins of Evil’.
Harry is arrested and his world falls apart, page by page. The central character of the story is Nola, a fifteen year-old girl that Harry had fallen in love with. She disappeared on August 30th, 1975, the day she was supposed to elope with Harry. Nola is young and beautiful, with a sweet smile but is she the fragile virgin, dancing on the sand or is she Salome or maybe Jezebel, those women of ancient lore? Whatever you think, you’re wrong. With Harry in jail, Marcus stays in Harry’s home and is determined to investigate the affair. He has in the beginning, a very reluctant partner in Sergeant Perry Gahalowood but it’s a partnership that slowly develops.
The setting of this novel is a seaside town called Somerset in New Hampshire. It’s on the edge of a forest and is well-hidden, the perfect place for a forbidden love affair or murder most foul. When the villagers learn that the book ‘The Origins of Evil’ was the story of Harry’s obsession and love for fifteen year-old Nola, even though she returned the love in full measure, they are shocked and unbelieving and Harry is stripped of all honor and is despised by all. So Marcus has his work cut out for him as he tries to unravel the mess.
This novel is over 600 pages long and not one page is wasted. The characters created and brought to life are great, and the humor here and there, is welcome because there are times when the tension becomes almost unbearable you feel like screaming. In the end though, the final reveal will leave you exhausted. You are going to work really hard at times to keep up with the story as it ebbs and flows like the tide and if you’re not alert, you might just get washed away. Highly recommended.
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