The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
by Joel Dicker (Swiss)
2012 (US 2014) – 656 pages
read by Pierce Cravens – 17h 54m
rating 9 / literary crime
It’s a rare book which can come off as both a murder-mystery crime novel and literary fiction with some great satire in it. The book was a hit in Europe where it was originally published but, unsurprisingly, not so much in the US. Well, the US is satirized a bit – but not in any kind of mean-spirited way -and for Americans its a huge leap from James Patterson to Joël Dicker.
The story: Back in the 1975 the eponymous Harry Quebert, a published author and professor then 35 years old, had some kind of love affair with Nola Kellergan, a part-time waitress, age 15. She then went missing and now, 33 years later (2008) , her dead body has been found buried in Harry’s yard along with a copy of Harry’s most famous book, The Origin of Evil.
Up to this point there is a huge similarity, and it can’t be accidental, to Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. The names and ages of Lolita and Humbert Humbert are similar to those of Nola and Harry Quebert, their actions are in the same ballpark. The area in which the books are set are similar and Humbert and Lolita stay at a camp called Q in central Vermont. Even some situations are similar. There are a couple huge differences though – Humbert is a very sick man and Nabokov specifically points that out. And there is definitely child abuse in Lolita but it was Humbert’s mind which is telling us in first person that Lolita was making advances to him. In Harry Quebert Harry is not the narrator and it looks as though he really tried to dissuade Nola – and maybe he did.
Meanwhile back at the story, Harry’s s former student and long-time friend Marcus Goldman, our first person narrator, has written a best seller and is being pressured by his agent and publisher, but can’t come up with a second. Then he finds out that Harry has been arrested for Nola’s murder and goes to New Hampshire to help him. Maybe he could write a book on the situation?
But in order to do that Marcus has to do some investigations – and therein lies the plot. The narrative goes back and forth between the 2008 investigations resulting from the discovery of the body and Harry’s being jailed, and 1975 when the events actually occurred.
The narrative gets quite complex not only with the 1975/2008 transitions, but there are also excerpts from books – from both Marcus’ and Harry’s – and the time frame sometimes goes to “two weeks prior.” Furthermore the narrator is frequently something less than solid – It’s 3rd person, but is it from Marcus or from Dicker or Harry? –
Marcus Goldman – 1st person writer – investigator
Harry Quebert – writer and arrested suspect in Nola’s murder –
Roy Barnaski – Marcus’ publisher
Douglas – Marcus’ agent –
Nola Kellergan – 15 year old girl who is found dead –
David Kellergan – Nola’s father a preacher
Louisa Kellergan – Nola’s mother –
Tamara Quinn – owner of restaurant, Clark’s, in 1975
Jenny Quinn Dawn – 17-year old daughter/waitress of Tamara
Travis Dawn – Chief of Police in 2008 – Jenny Quinn Dawn is his wife
Ernie Pinkas – volunteer librarian –
Benjamin Roth – Harry’s attorney
Gareth Pratt – chief of police – Somerset – 1975
Amy – his wife
Perry Gahalowood – Sergeant of State Police
Nancy Hattaway – Nola’s friend
Elijah Stern – rich suspect
Luther Caleb – chauffeur
Big change at page 261 – whew – should this be treated so lightly? – Hmmmm…. It was okay if there was no sex between the two but … is this Marcus’ version? – still –
Interesting book –