More is less

This is my review of The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Mr Joël Dicker.

Bestselling young author Marcus Goldman tries to break through his writer’s block by taking up the offer to quit the hectic life of New York for a stay at the peaceful house in coastal New Hampshire belonging to his long-time mentor, the celebrated write Harry Quebert. Marcus is shocked to learn by chance of Harry’s passionate relationship with the fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan more than thirty years earlier, but when suspicion falls on Harry after her body is found buried in the grounds of his property, Marcus is determined to prove his innocence, to the extent of writing a book to announce his findings to the world.

This is clearly a promising basis for a page-turner. The storyline is intriguing, manipulating and bamboozling the reader with a roller-coaster of twists, false trails and dramatic turn of events. Perhaps because of the chain of shocking revelations which continually change one’s view of characters, they tend to seem like puppets in the author’s hands, not evoking any depth of emotion. Partly because I was not sure I could believe in the love between Harry and Nola, it left me unmoved.

Some of the minor characters prove to have the most personality, such as Marcus’s possessive caricature of a Jewish mother, desperately trying to get him married off to a nice girl and his outrageous, irrepressible publisher, only interested in selling books, so not beyond hiring ghost writers to create imaginary, and therefore beyond the range of libel lawyers, sex scenes between Harry and Nola. This is of course a parody of the publishing world which made Joel Dicker’s book an international best seller: with the audacity of youth, he dares to humorously bite the hand that feeds him.

A reviewer in Le Figaro has hit the nail on the head. To paraphrase: “You emerge exhausted and delighted by the continuous stream of literary adrenalin that the narrator does not cease to inject into your veins” – except that, apart from the implausibility of some aspects of the denouement, I am not sure how “literary” the style is: it often seems quite banal, long-winded, and annoyingly repetitious, thus adding considerably to the book’s length – 862 pages in French and more than 600 in the English version – in which I noticed the odd sentence had somehow disappeared. I assume that the paragraphs repeated verbatim are intentional, and not a case of lack of editing on the cut-and-paste-elsewhere front. With 31 chapters counting down to the end, each based on a maxim of Harry’s on the theme of writing, Joel Dicker has managed to introduce fresh twists right up to the last page. However, in leaving me to regret that the book had finished, he failed.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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