The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

I am always happy to offer my opinion on a film, but it's not often that I feel the urge to write about a book. The Harry Quebert Affair - a sensational hit, translated into a gazillion languages from the Swiss writer Joël Dicker - has left me with the need to put some pen to paper.

So where to begin?

Let's start with the good. The book itself is a clever self-aware concept novel; when you get to the end and read the acknowledgements you realise that what you've been reading is the novel that the character Marcus Goldman is meant to have written in the story. Dicker has constructed a universe with a murder-mystery at its heart whilst simultaneously crafting a novel-within-a-novel which can only exist once you've finished reading it. The big reveal here is not who murdered Nola Kellergan, the big reveal is that you've been reading Marcus Goldman's book about who killed her this whole time.

In the same way that Jaws isn't about a shark, this novel is not about Harry Quebert - it's about the art of writing a novel, and in that way it's all very meta, very clever, but it's not well written. And that is what upsets me.

Marcus Goldman's character has never been in love, this is something we're told throughout the novel with it juxtaposing nicely with Harry's character's deep world-consuming love for Nola. This love though is so poorly written that I never at any point believed in it. Repeatedly expressing "Oh darling I love you so much" doesn't make it any more true, and as the story progresses the clichéd dialgoue makes all the characters that much harder to believe in. What puzzles me is this; because we're reading what is essentially Marcus' novel, and he has never been in love, does that mean that he wouldn't be able to properly express love? Does it mean that although he believed Harry throughout, he could never convey to the reader how deep their love was? Is the whole thing intentional?

Barnaski, the head of the publishing house who is a marketing genius, guaranteeing that the book will sell in the millions is also very meta. Afterall, the book you read is the book Marcus wrote, and it's sold in the millions - almost as if Dicker was aware of the effect this book would have. If that's the case then this man is cleverer than his writing style would have you believe.

Its this writing style that upsets me most. The concept of the novel is brilliant, but I found the prose lazy, filled with predictable one-liners and entirely 2D characters. Dicker doesn't respect the intellect of his readers, regularly summarising what we already know, and repeating information ad nauseum. When the final twists come I was already saturated with the feeling of being in the dark that I didn't care who the killer was or what Harry had to do with the Origin of Evil, I just wanted it to end.

There is a truly brilliant novel in there. The idea that you're reading a novel-within-a-novel whilst the story is unfolding is not a new idea, but the delivery of that revelation on literally the final page of the novel is a corker, it almost leaves me feeling glad that I powered on through. 

But I powered on through after reading The English Patient, a novel so staggering in its depiction of love and heartbreak that I felt like The Truth About Harry Quebert was like reading a Sidney Sheldon novel.

Tom Wood