The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

harry quebert

Is it, or is it not, generally known that the whole “And it was all a dream! Taa daa!” school of TV making is unacceptable these days?  It’s a get-out-of-jail free card that makes a mockery of any damn you’ve given in the previous half hour – or in the case of Dallas (as I understand) an entire season.

The equivalent with books – in terms of an annoying, often-used, lazy device – is the “Oh, and the character then wrote the book that you’ve been reading the whole time! This is their work after all!” Except you know it isn’t.  The only time I’ve ever felt that this worked is at the end of Memoirs of a Geisha.  Maybe it’s just because I read it years ago, but the narratorial voice was so convincing that I was convinced that the whole thing had indeed been written by the geisha in question.  I was genuinely baffled about what Arthur Golden’s name was doing on the cover, the imposter.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert affair takes this a step beyond the usual claptrap device by telling of the writing of not only “The Harry Quebert Affair” but ALSO “The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair.” I can’t pretend that this quirk makes it less annoying.  But, this irritant aside, this novel isn’t a bad choice if you’re after something readable and page-turner-ish.  A body is found resolving the disappearance of a teenage girl thirty years earlier, seeming to point towards murder by the respected writer in a quiet American community.  A bright-spark student of the writer, a successful writer himself (keep up) comes to investigate the scandal and, natch, write about it in an exhaustive and vaguely postmodern fashion.

It’s quite long and rather too much time is setting up one coherent theory which is subsequently demolished in the most interesting and enjoyable final section of the book.  The novel is all supposedly the work of one of the two writer characters, and we’re repeatedly told how excellent and successful they are supposed to be, but the poor (or at least highly pedestrian) quality of their writing makes this seem highly unlikely.  This is a translation, but the simplicity of the vocabulary makes me think that this was surely a problem with the original.

It does hook you in, and I keenly read away to discover The Big Twist that you expect from detective-type stories of this kind.  This is provided and doesn’t disappoint.  But it’s one to read for the story alone, rather than any quality of the writing, or interesting themes, explored along the way.  3/5.


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