The book industry quivers on the precipice, crying out for a savior. Lo, a new hope from the Old World: The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, a massively successful thriller by Swiss author Joël Dicker. Two million sold. Translated into 32 languages. Ron Howard has the movie rights. (Ron Howard! He made The Da Vinci Code, and that other one!) Can the buzz get any buzzier? The first line of Quebert’s prologue reads, ”My book was the talk of the town.” Dicker isn’t just the book’s writer; he’s the hype man, too.
So it takes a few minutes to realize that Quebert is a really, truly, wonderfully bad book filled with more than 600 pages of purple prose and nonsense twists, of dialogue ripped straight out of a Roy Lichtenstein thought balloon. ”A man like Harry would never want a common diner waitress like me!” says the lovelorn local girl. ”Oh, Goldman, I’m so sick of your morals and lofty principles,” huffs the malevolent publisher to the dashing young writer.
Yes, Quebert takes place in a world where publishers are still malevolent, young writers are dashing, and girls are angels until they’re whores. When the book begins, popular author Marcus Goldman has writer’s block. He visits his old teacher Harry Quebert in a New Hampshire town filled with smiles and secrets. Turns out Quebert had a long-ago affair with a 15-year-old named Nola Kellergan, who disappeared without a trace. Would you believe Nola’s body is then discovered on Harry’s estate? And everyone thinks Harry killed Nola, except Marcus? And nothing is what it seems?
The plot thickens at the breakneck pace of bread rising. I would advise skipping the first half to get to the good stuff, but then you’d miss out on some utterly pretentious showmanship, like a book-within-a-book called The Origin of Evil. (Deep!) Quebert’s take on Nola is mildly offensive — apparently it’s all right for a grown man to romance a teenager if They’re Really In Love. But that’s a mere prelude to the pure-camp outrageousness of the final act, which plays like an episode of Law & Order: SVU that thinks it’s Dostoyevsky. If that sounds slightly fun, you’re right. If it sounds completely ridiculous, you’re right about that, too. C