Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

published 2014, translated from the French by Sam Taylor

section set in 1975







Upstairs, Jenny was ready. She was wearing a long evening dress, wide skirted with puffed shoulders, fake jewellery, too much lipstick and too many rings on her fingers. Tamara arranged her daughter’s dress and smiled at her.

“You’re beautiful, my darling. Quebert is going to fall head over heels in love with you when he sees you!”

“Thanks, Mom. But you don’t think it’s too much?”

“Too much? No, it’s perfect.”

“But we’re only going to the movie theatre!”

“And afterward? What if you go to a chic restaurant? Did you think about that?... maybe Harry has reservations at a very chic restaurant in Concord for his fiancĂ©e.”

“Mom, we’re not engaged yet.”...

"In any case, if he feels you up, for God’s sake let him do it!"



observations: I’m trying to think of something nice to say about this book, and I think I’ve found it: I love, LOVE the idea that a best-selling literary novelist cannot walk down the street without being recognized – there are TWO people in this happy position in the book: both of them apparently writing literary fiction, both so famous they are asked for autographs, and their dating lives are tabloid fodder. I am trying to think who the real equivalent would be – does Jonathan Frantzen find it hard to buy a drink without the waitress asking about his girlfriend? Is Philip Roth as recognizable, and as popular, as Justin Bieber?

If you find any element of that, or of this excerpt, convincing then this massive international bestseller is the book for you. I kept wondering if there was going to be some meta-explanation for what seemed to me childish writing, bizarre dialogue, and extremely unlikely events - but no.

Far from being engaged, Jenny is going on a casual first date to the movies in a small town. In an evening dress? Tamara Quinn, the mother, had never heard of Harry the author (he isn’t famous, yet), but on some casual gossip is prepared to pimp out her daughter in the manner outlined above. Has Joel Dicker ever met any mothers? Did they talk like Tamara?

It is a long long book, and about every 100 pages there was something I liked: the mad mother does have her moments, offering Harry ham sandwiches to check if he’s Jewish, and announcing her husband has cancer to avert social disaster at a party…. the imaginary diagnosis then runs a ribbon through the rest of the book.

There is a policeman called Gahalowood. Made that up did we? There is a slight ring of the writer Celine, who likes a strange name: Colonel O’Collogham in London Bridge is my favourite.

But the investigation and the final solution are ridiculous, the story of what really happened changing over and over again, and don’t start me on the question of the three words written on the manuscript. I suppose if you enjoyed the picture of American life (which seemed wholly inauthentic to me), you might get carried away in the excitement of the plot, you might actually care what happened to Nola. But it didn’t do it for me. I don’t usually write about living authors whose books I don’t like, but in this case Joel Dicker has sold millions of copies so won’t care – and good for him. I hope he is so famous now that people stop him in the street and say ‘I recognize you – didn’t you write that book?’ And then, ‘please sleep with my daughter.’

The picture is from a 1970s fashion magazine.


14 comments:

  1. Oops - I have this one on the pile (Net Galley) so I'll get to it soon. Hopefully I enjoy it a tad more than you! (It's going to be a grim week's reading if I don't!)

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    1. I will say, it's a fairly easy read. I hope you do like it more than I did - I'd really like to read a positive opinion of it to tell me what I was missing.

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  2. Moira - I love the idea of people being that ga-ga over writers, too. Really. But honestly, nothing you have said has convinced me that I ought to read this. I really see why this one really didn't do it for you. In fact, one thing that kept striking me was, 'It took 100 pages for something interesting to happen?' Another was the unsavoury undercurrent of a mother treating her daughter like that - like a piece of property in an odd way. Does that make sense? No, I don't think I'll read this one.

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    1. I think there was a rather old-fashioned view of women in the book - and not just because parts of it were set in the 1970s. There wasn't any female character who I think a modern woman would sympathize with, or find believable. I'm sure many people will like this book, but it was NOT for me....

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  3. Moira: You are a wicked woman damning the book by writing the faintest of praise for the primary character in a way that has nothing to with the plot.

    When I saw the photo I wondered if the photo might have been of you in the 1970's. Alas not, maybe next time.

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    1. I plead guilty to most of that, but not being the woman in the picture. I am happy to say that photos of me in my best 1970s styling are very hard to come by...

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  4. Thanks for that Moira, I shall consider myself well and truly warned off - I was considering getting it following its success and sale to the movies but this sounds like a pass to me.

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    1. I know some people have liked it very much, and I don't like to be too judgemental, but I did not enjoy it.

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  5. Great book review. Tell me everything I need to know without being unkind. Nice one!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, glad you enjoyed it.

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  6. The description at Goodreads makes the book sound good, but on the other hand, a book has to be VERY, VERY highly recommended before I would read over 600 pages. Doesn't sound like I will try this book... which I had not heard of at all. Will be interesting to see what Col thinks of it. Sounds like it has bits and pieces that are interesting.

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    1. I think it'd be a great idea to read a variety of opinions before embarking on this book - even I didn't think it was THAT terrible, just disappointing, and long. But I would not be telling other people to read it, whereas I know many others are enjoying it.

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  7. Omigosh - that's my hair (and make-up!) from the year I was bridesmaid at my sister's Big Fancy Wedding. But my dress was pink satin ("dusty rose"). Thanks for the giggle, and the shudder of horrified nostalgia. ;-)

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    1. I know! As I say above, we're lucky there wasn't FB in those days to show how we looked. I expect everyone thinks the fashions of their own young days were particularly hideous, but honestly, I think I had the worst...

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