Monday, May 19, 2014

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

I have to confess I'm a bit of a sucker for books that come with four or five frontispiece pages of highly positive review snippets from around the world, like these:

'By the end you're exhausted and delighted by the relentless stream of literary adrenaline which the narrator has continuously injected into your veins' (Le Figuro)

'Dicker writes a story full of such intelligence and subtlety that you can only regret the fact it comes to an end. A novel that works on so many levels: a crime story, a love story, a comedy of manners, but equally an incisive critique of the art of the modern author.' (Elsevier).

There are twelve more of these, all heaping lavish, breathless praise on this first novel by young Swiss author Joel Dicker.

The problem is the book is simply awful - an unmitigated disaster on just about every level.

The core narrative is the love affair between Harry Quebert, a writer in his mid thirties, and Nola Kerrigan, an apparently gorgeous, blond, 15 year old teenager. Yes, she's fifteen. The setting is a small town in New Hampshire.

They spend a lot of time together, in Harry's house, and even go on a four day vacation to Martha's Vineyard, where they 'lived as if in a dream, in that beautiful hotel by the ocean. They swam, they walked, they ate together in the hotel's large dining room, and nobody looked at them or asked them any questions. On Martha's Vineyard, they were able to live.' 

No, we're not told by the narrator whether they were intimate, that is, whether they HAD SEX. All through the book the notion that Harry, this mature, sympathetic character, who recognises his love for this young girl is wrong and must end, but makes no real effort to do so, is in all probability indulging in a heinous crime, well that uncomfortable fact is simply ignored. We're in the realm of 'pure joyous love' here people. That is good and great, right?

All the characters in the novel, and there are plenty, are bold stroke and dramatic stereotypes. The young are good, the police are corrupt, small towns are full of provincial, ignorant types, etc. Some of the characters are even delightfully rendered, like the brash Barnasky, the New York publisher, and the young narrator Marcus' mother, a delicious Jewish creation. 

Books like this always have multiple and baffling twists and turns and this one is no exception. The problem is the ultimate resolution is about as emotionally unsatisfactory as it is possible to get. It's a complete mess. It's barely credible and quite silly. As a reader I felt deflated and sort of angry. 

So here's my quote, if the publisher would like to include it: 'The reviews quoted here, apart from mine, are rubbish'. 

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