In 2012, Swiss writer Joel Dicker, at just 27 years, won a whole load of literary awards in the French speaking word with his 700 page crime thriller La Vérité Sur L’Affaire Harry Quebert.
The book sold over a million copies, won the prestigious prize of L’Académie Française and the Goncourt attributed by school going readers, amidst other awards. Joel Dicker was compared to Steig Larsson, Philip Roth and Nabokov – all in one breath. Despite its literary prizes and critical acclaim, La Vérité Sur L’Affaire Harry Quebert, is actually quite an approachable book (despite its size) and a real page turner.
Set in a fictitious town New England, the book follows the investigations carried out by a young, successful writer called Marcus Goldman, who tries to clear the name of his mentor, Harry Quebert, who is accused of murder. Marcus Goldman, is in the grip of a writer’s-block, and unable to write the follow-up to his successful debut, seeks the advice of his ex-professor Quebert, who is a legend of American literature. However, Quebert, seems to have had an affair with an adolescent girl called Nola who had disappeared under mysterious circumstances around 30 years back. All hell breaks lose, when her corpse is discovered in Quebert’s garden during a landscaping job. To make it worse, along with Nola’s body is found the original manuscript of Quebert’s masterpiece “The Origins of Evil”. And all this happens in just the first two chapters!
So who really killed Nola? Why does she have the manuscript? Does Marcus end up writing his successful second novel? All these questions and more are answered in the remaining 650 pages in which several dead ends, McGuffins and sordid truths keep surfacing to keep the reader hooked.
What makes this story of corruption and crime stand out is that it is also a book about writing. The master and his pupil debate often on the process of writing and the human qualities that are required to become a great one. A writer has to be someone who is infinitely comprehensive of human faults, as if he had lived those faults and crimes himself. Joel Dicker also explores the solitude of writing and the doubt that plagues every writer about his worth and whether what he is writing is any good at all.
By placing the story in 2008, the dawn of the Obama era, Joel Dicker also paints a portrait of a small town in America that is caught between several crossroads and uses this sociopolitical situation to add more depth to his crime thriller. The book is also a work of homage to Philip Roth. Themes that are dear to the writer like boxing, Newark etc. keep popping up through out.
So if you are in the mood for an intelligent page turner, with high literary ambitions and a pretty good story line, La Vérité Sur L’Affaire Harry Quebert is a great book for you!
Joel Dicker’s works are available widely in translation. Needless to say they are best enjoyed in their original French. In case you would like to start reading French literature in French, you can always enroll yourself for an online French Course at Babel School of Languages 🙂 Just click on the contact us tab!