I forget where I first heard about The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Swiss author Joel Dicker (who born grew up in Geneva, Switzerland, a French speaking city, so this novel was translated from the original French version), but I knew it had been a huge success overseas –it sold something like two million copies and translated into 32 languages. I also read that Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment had acquired the film rights, and that Penguin Books paid a fortune to publish the book here in the US -hoping that the book would be this year’s phenomenal bestseller from an unknown foreign writer, ala Stieg Larrson (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo). But being the sucker I am from time to time, I decided to pounce on this title early –I sort of came to the Larrson party late in the game.
After securing it from my library, I sat down late last week to begin it. Quickly, however, I realized how bad this book was going to be. It’s as if James Patterson (I realize he doesn’t exactly write his books, but he does plot out the wild and creepy scenarios and then hand it off to others to complete) and Bret Easton Ellis (he who thinks he's the greatest writer of his generation) had a kid and his name was Joel Dicker. The author knows no cliché he can’t use for his benefit, and stacks the book with just the most horrible dialogue (one of my favorites, of many, is when his publisher –seeing money now that he can cash in on the drama, is astounded that Marcus might have doubts about betraying his friends: ''Oh, Goldman, I'm so sick of your morals and lofty principles”).
When the book begins its 2008 and popular author Marcus Goldman (who is arrogant, pretentious, and one of the mostly unlikable and pretty much stupid hero’s in this genre) has writer's block. He visits his old teacher Harry Quebert in a stereotypical New Hampshire town that is filled with smiles and deep secrets –Twin Peaks but without all the interesting characters and situations. But what starts out as an attempt to clear his mind turns dark when the remains of missing 15-year-old girl named Nola Kellergan, who vanished 33 years before, is discovered on the grounds of Harry’s property. Quebert –a bestselling author himself who won accolades for a novel called The Origin of Evil, is –of course- implicated in the girl’s death. But Harry says he innocent, and Marcus believes him –even when his friend admits that back in 1975, then 34-year-old Harry was having an affair with the girl.
Yes, much like Larrson’s Millennium Trilogy, Dicker sort of treats women as angels, before revealing them as whores (and let’s not go into the moral implications of Quebert being in love with an underage girl –Hey, we really loved each other, so It’s okay, don’t be creeped out by it). That is only one of many disturbing things about the book. But unlike Larrson, who brought a bit of creativity and attempted to add some literary value to his pulp books, Dicker just plots out his novel as if he’s watched every modern American procedural show –with its ripped from the headlines stories and the truth is odder than fiction style.
So we have to sit through some 600 pages of some the most flamboyant purple prose we’ve seen since publishers unleashed James Patterson on the American market so we can get to the unbelievable twist ending (though I guessed wrong on who the murder was, I was only off by one degree of separation) that plays out like every episode of the Law & Oder franchise.
I suppose the book does what says on the tin –it’s one of titles people would read on the beach when on vacation. It’s silly, maybe slightly fun, but completely improbable and ultimately forgettable.