Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Joel Dicker - The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

August 30, 1975: the day fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan is glimpsed fleeing through the woods, never to be heard from again; the day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence.
Thirty-three years later, Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist, visits Somerset to see his mentor, Harry Quebert, one of the country's most respected writers, and to find a cure for his writer's block as his publisher's deadline looms. But Marcus's plans are violently upended when Harry is suddenly and sensationally implicated in the cold-case murder of Nola Kellergan - with whom, he admits, he had an affair.
As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues through his mentor's books, the backwoods and isolated beaches of New Hampshire, and the hidden history of Somerset's citizens and the man they hold most dear. To save Harry, his own writing career, and eventually even himself, Marcus must answer three questions, all of which are mysteriously connected: Who killed Nola Kellergan? What happened one misty morning in Somerset in the summer of 1975? And how do you write a book to save someone's life?
A chart-topping worldwide phenomenon, with sales approaching a million copies in France alone and rights sold in more than thirty countries, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a fast-paced, tightly plotted, cinematic literary thriller, and an ingenious book within a book, by a dazzling young writer.

Comment: This was quite a hyped book some time ago, especially when it was known there would be a mini-series adaptation too. I knew some friends have read it and some comments were quite positive so I stayed away from more reviews so that when I could read it, I'd go into it with no presumptions. I saw this was available at my local library and for months I looked for it until this one, when it was finally free. I had good hopes for it but being free from influences made me go clean slate and just appreciate the twists as they were revealed...

In this book we have the story of how the investigation of the disappearance of Nola Kellergen in 1975 finally has a new chance of being solved after her remains are found in the propriety of famous writer Harry Quebert.
As the country becomes more and more shocked such a beloved author is possibly guilty of her death an his prized and canon book is now considered evil for everyone realizes is was based on Harry's love interest for Nola, who was only 15 at the time to his 34, Harry's most dedicated student Marcus Goldman, now an author of his own, sets to discover the truth.
The problem is that the more Marcus uncovers from the fateful day of Nola's disappearance and all the little settings that made it happen, the more confusion he finds. Who is telling the truth about the whole affair?

I had a great time reading this book. This is a big book, in my Portuguese edition more than 600 pages but I felt I was reading full speed because the writing felt fluid and the graphic text (how the chapters were divided and so on) made it easy to turn the pages. The mystery itself was not such a surprise in this big publishing world where suspense and thriller stories present amazing twists and plots all the time but it was certainly entertaining for me.

The story is based on an investigation and how the players in current time remember what happened in those days close to the crime. This means a big part of the book is flashbacks to the past and how the characters describe what happened, why they acted a certain way, and how Marcus picks all these clues and adds the pieces to come up with a solution, especially because he has the help of one inspector from the police.
At the same time we are privy to the thoughts and doubts of Marcus and what goes on in his personal life, his own issues when it comes to write a new best seller to follow his first book, which was a huge success.

I suppose part of the appeal of this book is what has hooked me in other crime/suspense books in the recent past: how the authors mix the investigations and the stuff related to that as well as the domestic lives of the characters and their personal things. Very often the focus is so much in the crime that it could be anyone investigating but when we have a stimulating cast involved in it and we can see what is happening with them as well, for me this adds points for certain.

This said, I must add Marcus as a character was a little irritating at times. His attitude towards some situations felt really childish but we get an idea why as the story moves along and we get to know how he has behaved as a kid, then as a student and so on. It will be interesting to see in future books with him as a protagonist how his character develops (there is one more book with him as far as I've seen) but then, as an investigator and defendant of his friend and mentor Harry, he was superb in how his belief was rock solid. I guess the issue is how the author wrote some passages and it seemed to me he was made to look a bit too naive in some assumptions.

The main interest in the story is, of course, the investigation of what happened in the past because until now everyone assumed Nola has disappeared but it wasn't possible to prove she was dead.
As the story moves along we get to know many new details, some of them obviously red herrings in the big picture, but all of the clues that start to pile up make some sense. It was quite engaging how we got some surprises here and there and there is at least one big twist I didn't see coming  but when everything is finally known and explained, of course there two or three things that could only be pertaining by a severe case of extreme coincidence but whatever. 
The fact 34 year old Harry and 15 year old Nola were in love was quite the shock factor and that was why the case was even more fascinating to people as well as why it repulsed them. I must say, though, nothing explicit ever happened as I got the sense the author wanted to give this relationship that feel of platonic love, where the feeling and the love are higher aspirations for the two involved and not the carnal aspect of it. I liked how the focus was constantly changing to let the reader get new impressions as things got known and the sexual part of the story was not important at all.

Then the explanations are revealed and I finished the book with the sensation of sadness. the reason for the crime, the way it happened was only the sequence of misunderstandings and avoidable things that escalated into an impossible situation. There isn't one single shocking nor tangled factor behind the reason why Nola was killed after all. But that's life, I guess. People often exacerbate things when the cases/situations aren't immediately or easily presented. It's a lot more exciting to create an outrageous situation to "sell" rather than keep it to its minimum explanation and I think this whole plot was a bit like that: a simple mistake and misunderstanding created a crime which was exploited later on as a shock value piece without having to be.

As a whole, I liked this book even though some details, paths taken didn't seem to be the best the author could have chosen. Still, I'll try something else by the author, if the opportunity arises.
Grade: 8/10

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