When struggling writer Marcus Goldman goes to see his friend and mentor Harry Quebert to find inspiration and a cure for his writer's block, he stumbles upon a disturbing revelation - years before, Harry had been involved with a teenage girl who has since disappeared. When the girl, Nola, is discovered buried in Harry's back garden, Harry is the obvious suspect. In order to clear his friend's name, Marcus does the only thing he knows how - he writes a book. As his investigation into Harry's relationship with Nola and the events of 30th August 1975 leads him to darker and darker truths, Marcus begins to question everything he thinks he knows about his friend...
Every so often in any reader's life, a book comes along that reminds you why you love to read. I have had a handful of such books in the past, great novels (in my eyes anyway), like An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears or The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair is one of those books. Combining everything I love to find in a book, it is a fantastic, beautifully written mystery that is also so much more than that at the same time.
Told almost entirely by Marcus Goldman, a self-centered, shallow, unbelievably successful writer faced with every writer's dread - writer's block - The Truth About... details the chaos that unfolds once the body of a fifteen year old girl is found in the back garden of famous writer Harry Quebert. Harry is Marcus' friend and mentor, so Marcus decides to carry out his own investigation in order to clear Harry's name. Drafted into writing a book about the experience, Marcus soon realises that no one can be trusted and that every time he thinks he is getting a handle on what actually happened to Nola Kellergan, the truth is something completely different.
Although the centrepiece of The Truth About... is the gradual unveiling of what happened in 1975 and the truth behind the Harry Quebert affair, Joel Dicker's novel is just as much about writing, boxing and life. Each chapter (which are numbered backwards by the way for a reason that quickly becomes clear) begins with a piece of advice Harry has given Marcus over the years. While this advice is ostensibly about writing, they can be applied just as easily to life and it is thanks to this advice that Marcus gradually grows, changes and matures as the book progresses. Although he never really loses the slightly arrogant edge that any writer needs to be able to stand up and ask the world to read a bunch of words they have strung together, Marcus does grow into a more rounded human being and it is just as much this change as the truth about Nola that carries the novel forward.
The writing is great and it is difficult to remember that this is a translation out of French. Whoever the translator is, he did a phenomenal job, only once dropping the ball on the use of the French Untel (in English, So-and-so), but which I doubt anyone who is not bilingual would actually pick up on. Is the writing perfect? No. The dialogue can be a bit clunky at times and the shifts from present to past are sometimes a little confusing. But the book was such a joy for me that I passed over all those little imperfections, simply enjoying the ride.
A "coup-de-coeur" as we say in France, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair will be one of those books I will remember for a long time. A great mystery, an exploration of writing and life, the book touches all the buttons I need to make me fall head over heels in love with a novel. I cannot wait to see what Joel Dicker writes next and I doubt I will wait for a translation of whatever it is. This one will be in my top ten if not my number one at the end of the year, I am sure. I gave The Truth About... 5 seagull-full novels out of 5.