By guest reviewer Kate Oliver
My rating: ★★★★★
The Basics: Rising star author Marcus Goldman’s struggle with his second book leads him back to his college mentor Harry Quebert. A few months later, a young girl’s body is found in Harry’s back yard and he is accused of her murder, leading Marcus to investigate the case as his own.
In depth: This novel was translated from the hugely popular 2012 French novel “La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert and has sold more than two million copies across Europe; it’s not difficult to see why. The novel is engaging and utterly absorbing from the first few pages, with the chapter numbers running in reverse chronology, a trick the reader may not notice immediately. It expertly jumps between past and present, with no feeling of confusion or jetlag on the reader’s part. The book is a book within a book; a novel about writing and books and the power of books themselves. It is about writers, the way they write, their inspiration and how books can change the lives of both writers and the readers.
Although the book’s title does not allude to her, the real and intriguing focus of the novel is the young Nola Kellergan, a fifteen year old girl who went missing on August 30 1975 and whose body is found 33 years later in June 2008, in Harry Quebert’s back yard, buried with the manuscript of his greatest novel. Quebert is immediately arrested for her murder but continues to protest his innocence throughout.
Marcus Goldman, the novel’s narrator, is Harry’s protégé and the closest thing Harry has to a son or any family of his own. Harry is a writer, one of the greats of the last century, but peaked with his second book, The Origin of Evil and meets Marcus as his college professor in a small town near Somerset, New Hampshire. And so begins a relationship between the two men, and a dialogue between them throughout the book. Each chapter begins with a snippet of a conversation between them, with Quebert giving advice to Marcus about writing, their mutual love of boxing, and ultimately life. One of my personal favourites includes:
Words are for everybody, until you prove that you are capable of appreciating them. That’s what defines a writer. You see Marcus, some people would like you to believe that a book consists of relationships between words, but that’s not true: It is in fact about relationships between people.
After college, Marcus too becomes a great writer, with his first novel becoming a huge success and leading him to the be the new ‘It’ boy in New York City. However, the pressure to perform as highly with his second novel causes him writer’s block and so he returns to Harry’s coastal home in Somerset to try and cure himself and start writing again. During his stay with Harry, he discovers that during the summer of 1975, Harry conducted a relationship with fifteen year old Nola Kellergan but told no one about it and begs Marcus to do the same. After six weeks, he returns to New York, only to hear shortly after that the body of the missing fifteen year old girl has been found in Harry’s back yard. Sure of his mentor’s innocence, he travels back to Somerset. With the help of the initially moody, yet ultimately cooperative and highly intelligent Sergeant Gahalowood, Marcus undertakes his own investigation into the elusive and intriguing Nola Kellergan and what exactly happened during the summer of 1975.
The twists and turns of this novel are part of its excellence, however this is not the kind of novel that relies solely on big reveals and surprises in order to keep the reader engaged. The author’s style of writing is easy, and a complete pleasure to read and this must be due to not only author Joël Dicker, but also to Sam Taylor who translated the novel into English. The beauty of this novel is in both the story, which is complex without being complicated, but (for me) even more importantly the writing, which doesn’t detract from the story itself, but only enhances it. Its simplicity allows the reader to consider what may happen next and allows us to figure out what happened at the same pace as the narrator, but the author’s command of language means this is the kind of book you want to luxuriate in; one you want to curl up inside and enjoy every single moment of.
I adored this book and wanted to write this review to encourage as many people as possible to enjoy it as well and so I have deliberately left out any spoilers so people can enjoy it first hand as I did. The final quote in the epilogue is perfect, it sums up exactly how I felt about this novel as a whole:
A good book, Marcus, is judged not by its last words but by the cumulative effect of all the words that have preceded them. About half a second after finishing your book, after reading the very last word, the reader should be overwhelmed by a particular feeling. For a moment, he should think only of what he has just read; he should look at the cover and smile a little sadly because he is already missing all the characters. A good book Marcus, is a book you are sorry to have finished.
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