The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
I’m going to declare right at the outset that I’m as jealous as hell of Swiss author Joël Dicker. He’s young and good-looking and, since his thriller novel and whodunit The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, has been translated into 32 languages – appearing in the States in 2014 – and sold two million copies, he was a very wealthy young man before he was thirty.
So: jealous. You bet. But I’m also puzzled. The lady who gave me a copy of this raved about it; and she has hardly been the only one. So how come I found it endless, completely unbelievable and with characters that we’re asked to admire, but who (even if you did somehow believe in them) are hideous, painful and the kind of people you wouldn’t willingly associate with in a million years.
Let me introduce you to 28-year-old New Yorker Marcus Goldman. What an insufferably vain prick this guy is.
He tells us on page one that he is the author of a book that has made him so famous that the doorman of his swanky apartment buttonholes him to talk about it; that awe-struck fans join him at the table of his local café and – my personal favourite – start to jog alongside him when he’s out running!
I had to keep checking to make sure that this guy was actually a writer and not some sort of stellar movie star just off of three consecutive hit films.
He’s having writer’s block and so, despite the fact that he dropped his supposed best friend and mentor when he hit the big time, the little sleeveen calls up the 58-year-old college professor and ‘great writer’ Harry Quebert for advice and gets invited to his home in the small New Hampshire town of Somerset.
If you thought that Marcus was a pretentious little dildo then you haven’t met Harry. And when you put the two of them together it is such a nauseatingly sweet, saccharine, mutual admiration society that you are likely to develop diabetes.
And that’s before you find out that the great Harry is a pervert who had an affair with a fifteen-year-old girl called Nola Kellergan when he was in his thirties. The girl had disappeared in 1975 but it is when her body is dug out of Harry’s back garden that the action begins, moving back and forwards in time.
Trust me, you will never want to hear that phrase ‘great writer’ ever again. Ever.
With heads firmly up each other’s asses they assure themselves endlessly of their brilliance. Not only that, but so does the rest of the town. Nobody ever stops telling them of their writerly greatness.
Also, they are great boxers. And box each other at the strangest of times.
I can no longer be your friend, Marcus. Come spar with me whilst I explain it to you.
It doesn’t even have the saving homoerotic vibe to it of say, Oliver Reed and Alan Bates nude wrestling in Women in Love. It’s just weird. Then, just when you think that you couldn’t possibly find this Harry fella any more peculiar, he goes all Jack Torrance on us, writing over and over the word N-O-L-A.
So he’s wandering around with pages that have nothing on them except ‘Nola’; and the other fella is just wandering around with pages that have nothing on them at all.
And wait until you get a load of this Nola that we are supposed to believe is the love of the great writer’s life. We’re supposed to think that this is a child-woman/artistic muse.
No…she’s just a child. Full stop. In fact she sounds like a ten-year-old child, not a fifteen-year-old one. Then again, so does Harry. Maybe they were well met.
At first I thought that perhaps the trouble was the translation; but in fact every single character is a cartoon stereotype:
The initially belligerent but loveable detective who irritatingly refers to Marcus as ‘Writer’. At least we can be grateful it wasn’t ‘Great Writer’. Of course, they become a team and, of course, his entire family is in awe of Marcus, considering him a ‘great writer’.
The social climbing diner owner who hates Harry’s guts but kind of warms to Marcus when she realizes that a great writer is interested in her tales.
The totally avaricious publisher who is thinking of suing Marcus for breach of contract but then remembers that he is a great writer.
The appallingly amoral lawyer who needs the help of the great writer in saving the other great writer from the gas chamber.
I could go on and on but surely Marcus’s mother – straight out of Jewish Central Casting – deserves a special mention.
“Wrong number? You call your mother, you say ‘shit’, and then you say it s the wrong number?
“I give you life and what do I get in return?
“You can’t even spare a minute for your poor mother. Your mother, who made you such a handsome and talented writer? Who carried you nine months in her womb, blah blah blah.”
I’m not making this up.
Which reminds me: that dialogue. Dear God, did anyone ever exist who spoke like these twats?
This has been compared to the brilliant Twin Peaks? This? For this I saved myself twelve Euros by borrowing it from a friend? Me? A poor Gentile with not one cent in the bank?
Yeah, the fake Jewish shtick is contagious.
Jeez, by comparing it to Twin Peaks they must be thinking of the satire within that show called ‘Invitation to Love’, which takes the piss out of the worst of American daytime TV — because that’s the level this dialogue is on.
And maybe that’s it. Perhaps it’s meant as a send-up of a certain kind of American novel.
If so, then I’m afraid that the joke went completely over my head. Then again, I’m not a great writer.