Book review: The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

This book was passed to me because a good friend of mine found she just couldn’t get into it, so my expectations weren’t high. Also, I was reading it in translation from the original French, in English, so I expected the language and style to feel disjointed, and annoy me.

The premise is that a well-known author who is struggling to create his second novel goes to spend time with his college tutor, Harry Quebert, another author. While he is there, the “Affair” explodes around him – the body of a girl who went missing 33 years ago is dug up in Harry’s garden, making him the chief suspect.

Our hero knows (in his heart) that Harry cannot have abducted and killed the girl, despite the mounting evidence that backs up the popular theory. It starts to look like this should be the material for his difficult second novel. Indeed, the implication is that the book in your hands is this second novel (which I found to be quite clever).

The story doesn’t move super-quickly, and there are quite a few threads to keep track of as you go through. The writing conveys the characters’ motivation and feelings really well – you properly understand why they do the things they do. The twists and turns of the story are well hidden and well revealed when the time comes – it was rare that I felt “there’s a twist coming” which means to me that the plot was well constructed. On that same note, I felt like the threads were effectively brought together at the end – the ending was satisfying. Too often when I finish a novel, I think “meh, is that it?” and the denouement felt a bit like a cop-out. Not so this time.

Also, by the time I had read to the end (it’s not a super-long novel, but for some reason I felt like I had been on a long journey at the end of it) I was surprised to be reminded that this was a translation. The language felt natural and well-constructed throughout – at no point did it feel clunky and there is a large amount of idiomatic speech in the story, which is most at risk when translating. So: really, really good job on the translation, Sam Taylor.

An edited version of this review first appeared on The Book Gnome