The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
Unfortunately, I read a number of reviews comparing THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR to the Millennium Trilogy and thus approached the book under some misimpressions. Once I got deep into the story and was able to discern for myself what it is and isn’t, I discovered that it is quite enjoyable on its own terms, a very well-paced, character-driven novel that, at various times, is reminiscent of OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder and LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov, yet on balance is wholly original.
It is full of contradictions both in the story it tells and in its conception, being a fully American novel authored by Joël Dicker, a Swiss native who spent his childhood summers in the New England where the book is set. There are no girls with dragon tattoos here, but as in that famous trilogy, the females in Dicker’s debut are in many ways deadlier than the males.
"Full of twists, turns and surprises, THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR promises to be one of this season’s most talked-about novels."
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR is in no small part about books, writing and authors. Indeed, great portions of it are a book within a book. The story revolves around two authors, one being the Harry Quebert of the title, the other being Marcus Goldman. Quebert is an American literary icon as the result of The Origin of Evil, his second published work that he wrote in the mid-1970s. The inspiration for this book was a 15-year-old girl named Nola Kellergan, with whom the 33-year-old Quebert was secretly romantically involved, and who disappeared simultaneously with the murder of a local woman in August 1975.
In 2008, Goldman is, for all intents and purposes, the new Quebert, an irony of sorts given that Quebert is Goldman’s best friend and mentor. Goldman has already written one major bestseller but has hit the south wall of a mile-high writer’s block; his next book is due in a matter of months, and his publisher is threatening to sue. As this drama is unfolding, some laborers on Quebert’s property uncover the remains of a young girl. There is no doubt that the body is that of the long-missing Kellergan.
Quebert is almost immediately arrested for the murder, and when his past relationship with the teen is revealed, he becomes a nationwide pariah almost overnight. His sole remaining supporter and friend is Goldman, who slowly begins an investigation into what occurred some three decades before, uncovering town secrets that at least one person would prefer remain buried and writing a book about it in the process.
Dicker, aided in this edition by the yeomanlike translation of Sam Taylor, advances the narrative ever forward along two separate timelines, raising uncomfortable questions about morals and relationships, and challenging long and widely held suppositions regarding propriety, all the while moving the heart of the book --- its mystery --- to an amazing conclusion. What begins as a seemingly open-and-shut case against Quebert soon enough becomes anything but. As the story progresses, Goldman willingly takes the chance to uncover the truth, even as he puts himself in danger to tell the story of what really occurred --- on several levels --- some three decades before.
Each character is complex, none more so than Quebert himself and Goldman. Neither is wholly likable, an interesting choice by Dicker that makes Goldman’s ultimate goal of attaining the truth all the more intriguing. Full of twists, turns and surprises, THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR promises to be one of this season’s most talked-about novels.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 30, 2014