The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair was a Radio 2 Book Club book, and although I’ve been waiting for a while, I still haven’t been picked to be a reviewer. So when this one came up, and everyone started raving about it, I decided to add it to my reservation list at the library.
The book is told largely from the perspective of Marcus Goldman, a young writer who, having achieved fantastic success with his first novel, is struggling to overcome writer’s block and write his second. His mentor, the Harry Quebert of the title, is accused of the murder of teenage girl in the small coastal town where he lives. The girl went missing thirty years previously, and her body, found in Harry’s back garden, was buried with the original manuscript of his most famous book. Goldman takes his writer’s block and decides to overcome it by working on a book to prove Harry Quebert’s innocence, and the result is a book spanning three decades, taking various twists and turns and presenting lots of different scenarios.
This is a long book. At over 600 pages, it took me a long time to read, and in the end I had to return the book to the library and download it in order to finish it. It’s a very compelling story, and I loved the way that it was written, never in a linear way, but switching between the present day where Goldman is writing his book, the distant past when the girl in question, Nola Kerrigan goes missing, and the recent past, when Marcus and Harry met and began their friendship. I liked the way the chapters were divided, each one beginning with Harry giving Marcus a lesson about writing, sometimes wrapped up as a lesson about boxing, a hobby that the two of them share, but ultimately working perfectly well as a lesson about life.
The story itself is as twisty and turny as criminal thrillers get. The reader only ever knows what Marcus knows, and for a long time, that’s not a lot. Harry is posited as the killer early on, and it is revealed very quickly that thirty years ago, as an adult man, he was in a relationship with the fifteen-year-old Nola. It’s really hard to tell whether or not his supposed guilt over the murder is a double bluff; as Marcus uncovers the truth, he’s definitely left in the frame for a long time.
There has been some criticism of the fact that we read about certain events multiple times, as the truth unravels itself. This wasn’t something I minded at all; it felt exactly the way you would think about things if you were investigating such a case, going over things again and again to ensure you had it all in the right order.There were a couple of twists in the end, and I had actually guessed at one of them. Guessed might actually be the wrong word, because I think it was signposted early on, and then buried.
Despite largely enjoying the book, I ended up feeling a little cheated by the ending. It all felt a little too neatly tied up, and while that’s not a complaint I would usually have, with a book like this, where we were privy to all the different scenarios that Marcus was considering, to have it all slot into place so tidily didn’t necessarily sit too well with me. But the book was written exceptionally well, with such a fantastic sense of place. Given that Dicker is Swiss, the locating of the book in a small New England town was an unusual decision, but he managed it extremely well. The inhabitants of the town are all drawn perfectly.
I think in the end, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is not quite as good as the sum of its parts. I enjoyed it a lot, but when I finished it, I was left feeling ever so slightly swindled. It’s definitely worth a read, though you should settle yourself in for the long haul. It’s a big book!
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
First published: April 2014