Approaching a 600 page book is rather daunting whether you dare to accept it or not. Unfortunately we live in a world where time is quickly becoming more valuable than money, and I always come to a meaty book with a slight apprehension. Will this book be worth my time? It’s a horrible and rather redundant question to ask, as you won’t find the answer until you’ve actually invested it, but it is a question nonetheless. I feel this quite a lot with thrillers. Thrillers, by definition, thrill and it’s much easier to accept that a writer has successfully done that over a shorter page-span (coining that) than something longer.
In a world where a novel can be turned into a feature film, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair is more of a television series. It successfully balances thrills in peaks and troughs, providing a mystery that slowly reveals itself over the course of the narrative, and long continues even after you’ve put the book down. The town of Somerset is so real and inviting, with a wonderful cast of characters that you will want to live there yourself. It is phenomenal, and I cannot stress that enough.
The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair follows Marcus Goldman, a New York author who is having trouble with his second novel. He calls upon old mentor and famed writer Harry Quebert to help pull him out of his slump but when the remains of a fifteen-year-old girl are found at the bottom of Harry’s garden, the old man is accused of murder. It transpires that Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kerrigan the summer she disappeared, and a manuscript of his famous novel was found with her corpse. He is the only suspect. Marcus Goldman, desperate to clear his friend’s name, travels to Somerset, New Hampshire to solve the mystery.
There are many stories in Quebert Affair and the greatest thing is that they all wrap around and add to the greater narrative. Each inhabitant of Somerset is given their own time and the story is better because of it. As Marcus starts to delve deeper into the mystery, he gets to know the people of the town and the secrets they keep. There is a Broadchurch feel to the mystery, with nothing really being as clear as it seems initially, but where that story failed to really provide an arc for any of the subsidiary characters, Quebert excels. When all is said and done, it feels that Quebert was just as much about, say, diner waitress Jenny Quinn or childhood friend Nancy Hattaway, as it is about Nola or Harry Quebert himself.
This is a story about love, thankfully, not paedophilia. This could have been a very different and far more ugly book if Dicker had chosen to make it so, but right from the start he emphasises that Harry and Nola are in love. While they do kiss, it is never stated whether they sleep together. Dicker is not concerned so much with the world implications of this as he is concerned with the characters, given their love a strength that it is hard to ignore. Indeed, this love is initially what propels the book forward, as the reader, as well as Goldman, is convinced Harry Quebert did not do it.
However the story gets murkier and things do not become so certain. There are many twists and turns, with so many little details to the case that are able to flourish over the course of the narrative. This means that even if you can peg who the murderer is, you most likely won’t know how or why or what. The mystery is definitely a part of what keeps you reading, but you almost don’t want to find out for yourself, but more for Goldman as he bangs his head against the wall of this massive mystery.
Marcus Goldman is a great main character. The cliche of writer struggling with writer’s block is well-worn, but Dicker soon establishes a good reason for it. Quebert and his bond is what defines him, and Goldman is so convinced of Quebert’s innocence that it is hard to see things from an objective point of view. He is an incredibly biased protagonist, but has to come to terms with some harsh truths as he investigates. And the early revelation that we are, in fact, reading his new book is a good device.
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is not flawless however. A sub-plot with Goldman’s mother attempting to set him up with women wears out its welcome quickly, and Dicker seems to revel in the joke for far too long. The character of police officer Gahalowood is a particular problem, as the man seems to rabidly hate Goldman one minute and then be best friends with him the next. Also, one particular lategame revelation is a little hard to digest, as though it may have been thrown in there more for convenience than narrative affinity.
To answer the question at the beginning of the review, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair is a big novel and it was well worth my time. It is the best book I have read in a long time, and I am still thinking about it days later. It will shock and excite you but most of all it will charm you. It is an incredible achievement and I look forward to see what Dicker does next.
And to end, a quote from Harry Quebert himself – ‘A good book is a book you are sorry to have finished.’ Indeed, Mr Quebert, indeed.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE HARRY QUEBERT AFFAIR