The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, by Joel Dicker

Written from the point of view of Marcus, an aspiring novelist, tells the story of his teacher and mentor, Harry Quebert, who had phenomenal success with a novel he wrote that has been universally accepted as a masterpiece of modern fiction, but now finds himself suspected of foul play in connection with the disappearance some years ago of a young girl in the town where he lived.

This is a bestseller that's got lots of rave reviews. But I couldn't see why (well, I suppose the setup is reasonably interesting, maybe more interesting than I've made it sound). I thought the writing was rather poor.

The book quotes passages from Harry's supposed masterpiece "The Origin of Evil", which is a bad mistake. Having told us that Harry's book has made its way on to the syllabus of pretty much every course on modern literature, it would have been better to have left it there. Instead, by quoting passages from it which are really banalbad, the credibility of the rest of the novel is undermined. E.g.

He knew that, from now on, writing to her would be his way of loving her, since he could not be physically close to her. They would kiss the paper the way they burned to kiss each other. They would wait for the mailman like lovers waiting at a railway platform.

Sometimes, in absolute secrecy, he would hide at the corner of her street and wait for the mailman to pass. He watched her rush out of the house and throw herself upon the mailbox to seize the precious letter. She lived only for these love letters. It was, at once, a beautiful and tragic scene: Love was their greatest treasure, but they were denied it.

My sweet darling,
I can't show myself to you because that would cause us too much harm. We are not from the same world; people would never understand.

How I suffer from my low birth! Why must we live according to other people's rules? Why can't we simply love each other in spite of our differences? This is the world today: a world where two beings who love one another cannot hold hands. This is the world of today: full of codes and rules. But they are dark rules that tarnish and imprison people's souls. But our souls are purel they can't be imprisioned.

My love for you is infinite and eternal, and it has been since the very first day.

Each chapter of the book starts with a little bit of quoted advice from Harry to Marcus which are meant to be profound, I think, but are uniformly trite, e.g.

"The reason writers are such fragile beings, Marcus, is that they suffer from two sorts of emotional pain, which is twice as much as a normal human being: the heartache of love and the heartache of books. Writing a book is like loving someone. It can be very painful."

The structure of the story reminded me a bit of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, where the main character is chasing down one clue at a time, each of which leads him on to the next thing. There was a ridiculous number of false leads, coincidences and red herrings: everyone who lived in Harry's town turned out to have some sliver of information as well as something personal to hide. So I did feel compelled to keep on reading to find out what happened, but I wouldn't recommend the book.

Completed : 24-Aug-2014

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