‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ by Joel Dicker tells the story of Marcus Goldman, a young author suffering from writer’s block after the success of his debut novel. His former professor and mentor Harry Quebert is arrested and charged with the murder of his fifteen-year-old lover Nola Kellergan who is found buried on his property in New Hampshire thirty-three years after she disappeared. Marcus becomes obsessed with solving the mysteries surrounding Nola’s disappearance and starts investigating what really happened all those years ago.
‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ was described by Sam Leith writing in The Guardian as “very enjoyable cobblers, but cobblers nonetheless”. I would be inclined to agree with this view of Dicker’s debut novel although its flaws distracted me from enjoying it very much at all. The excellent choice of cover taken from Edward Hopper’s painting ‘Portrait of Orleans’ evokes the atmosphere of the story very well which has an interesting premise. However, the dialogue in particular was mostly very clunky and unconvincing and according to other reviews, this isn’t due to a poor translation. In other novels, I often find it’s possible to “like” unlikeable characters but it’s difficult to sympathise with or even care about Marcus and Harry. ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ is an easy page-turner but it’s too long and the story drags in places with several lengthy and sometimes unnecessary flashbacks. That said, I kept reading in the hope of some sort of “big twist” à la ‘Gone Girl‘ by Gillian Flynn. While the ending is neatly tied up after several red herrings, it didn’t really live up to my expectations overall.
Shortlisted for the prestigious Prix Goncourt in France, ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’ was far less literary than I had been expecting. I think Alice Gregory’s assessment of the novel’s European success in the New Yorker following an interview with the author is particularly interesting: “If Dicker is right, though—if French readers have been denied easy-to-swallow sentences and swiftly moving plot—then it makes sense that his novel did so well over there. But there’s no deficit of “readable” books written in English, and available in America.” Moreover, there are plenty of “readable” books which are more skilfully written than ‘The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair’. Having recently read some much more sophisticated crime fiction in the form of ‘The Silkworm‘ by Robert Galbraith, I had been expecting more from this novel. It’s fine if you want an easy read for a bit of escapism, but I think there are other thrillers out there which are much more worth your time.