28 May 2014

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

Summary from Goodreads:
August 30, 1975: the day fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan is glimpsed fleeing through the woods before she disappears; the day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence.

Thirty-three years later, Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist, visits Somerset to see his mentor, Harry Quebert, one of America’s most respected writers, and to find a cure for his writer’s block as his publisher’s deadline looms. But Marcus’s plans are violently upended when Harry is suddenly and sensationally implicated in the cold-case murder of Nola Kellergan—whom, he admits, he had an affair with. As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues through his mentor’s books, the backwoods and isolated beaches of New Hampshire, and the hidden history of Somerset’s citizens and the man they hold most dear. To save Harry, his writing career, and eventually even himself, Marcus must answer three questions, all of which are mysteriously connected: Who killed Nola Kellergan? What happened one misty morning in Somerset in the summer of 1975? And how do you write a successful and true novel?

A global phenomenon, with sales approaching a million copies in France alone and rights sold in more than thirty countries, 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.

The Penguin First To Read program is a bit interesting - offer readers the chance to snag choice DRCs ahead of publication (there's a way to guarantee a copy if necessary) and submit reviews.  I had been striking out on the random drawings thus far so I decided to plunk down some points to read the much-buzzed The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair.  A little feedback for Penguin: one month to read a 700 page novel isn't long enough (particularly when the DRC expires three weeks ahead of the pub date) and your DRCs are really hard to read (I had to borrow a paper ARC off a fellow bookseller so I could finish).  Now that's off my chest....

Harry Quebert is a breakout novel by Swiss author Joël Dicker (his bios are in French) and is frequently compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl.  In some aspects, this is true.  The book's structure is like a series of nested puzzle boxes: meandering, twisting, and repetitive. Scenes are constantly retold from different points-of-view and with changing information. Different timelines in both the 1970s and 2008 are jumbled around. His chapters can cliff-hanger with the best of them.  Unfortunately, there's too much meandering at the beginning of the book.  Until the end of part 1, which is a good 300 pages, I was having a lot of trouble even wanting to finish the novel.  First off, the "narrator" of the book - bestselling author Marcus Goldman, aka Marcus the Magnificent - is an annoying, egotistical, self-absorbed, whiney brat with a really stereotypical Jewish mom; I spent much of those 300 pages wishing desperately that he would Get Over Himself and realize that people (him included) are the most flawed creations under the sun.  Second, the level of provincial bumpkin-ism given to the residents of Somerset, New Hampshire, was grating; now, that may have been the translation at work, but so many characters just came off as flat and uninteresting.  Including the two central players in the historical drama: Harry Quebert and Nola.  I just didn't care what happened.  If I hadn't been reading-to-review, I might have just set the book down at about page 150.

But I kept going.  I'm glad I did because at about the halfway point someone drops a media bomb into the mix and then everything starts being real (to paraphrase The Real World opening credits).  The characters stop being nice to each other, and oh, so provincially sweet, and get down to the business of being crazy, obsessed, screwed up human beings.  The back half of this book is where the thriller being advertised lies. This is a novel about love, obsession, psychosis, shame, and truth with enough left turns thrown in to make even Agatha Christie dizzy.  And those good twists are too excellent to spoil, which is a shame because this is where I want to talk about SOME STUFF.  (Personally, I would have chopped about 100 pages out of the front half of the novel to get the reader to the good stuff at the back.)


So read The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair.  Maybe take a small break during the front section of the book if the reading becomes boggy. The second half is worth it.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this novel from Penguin's First To Read program and borrowed an ARC from a friend. 

2 comments:

  1. I have my doubts I'd get to the 2nd half of the book. How'd a 700-page novel with 350 pages of boringness get to be best seller? I don't have that much patience.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, I just don't get it either - the raves keep rolling in, though.

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