You will have noticed that Harry Quebert has come to eat lunch in our restaurant every day for the past week. Mr. Quebert is a famous New York writer and we should pay him special attention. His needs must be met with the greatest discretion. No one should bother him.
Table 17 is reserved for him until further notice. It must always be free in case he arrives.
To my chagrin, the good folks at Pizzaville have never sent out such a memo about me. And yet I am a writer. And I have been known to pop in at all hours for that delicious breakfast (two eggs up, sausage, potatoes and coffee, thanks).
Let me contrive a New York connection – maybe that would make me worthy of extra attention? Ah, I’ll have that booth seat, please.
Harry Quebert, on the other hand, preferred a proper table and chair. And the small-town restaurant owner in the novel The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair wanted to run more than a relaxed, home-style eatery: she saw herself as running a multiple-star Michelin restaurant.
She was living a fantasy. But then again, aren’t we all. Quebert was a nobody, but the small-town folk he met wanted to believe that he was a big shot.
The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair (by Joël Dicker, translated by Sam Taylor, 2014) is a multiple-award-winning, 600-plus-page, genre-spanning mess of fun.
First, it’s the tale of Marcus Goldman, a twentysomething author suffering from that most horrific of tribulations, a crazily successful first novel. He’s famous, dating a movie star, has money coming out his ears. And is unable to write another word.
And Goldman is already on the way down: “Glory was a Gorgon whose visage could turn you to stone if you failed to continue performing. My share of the public’s attention had been taken over by the latest rising politicians, the stars of the hottest new reality TV show….”
So he returns to visit his old professor, Harry Quebert, and begins to relive Quebert’s decades-old efforts to pen a successful novel. Along the way, a body is found buried in Quebert’s backyard. She’s 15, disappeared 33 years ago, and may have been Quebert’s lover. And, it would appear, his victim.
Of course Goldman must investigate.
The story is set in New England, yet written in French by a Swiss novelist. And yes, the book is modern and self-referential and clever. And very, very creepy.
It’s about writer’s block, about inhabiting the lives of others (as writers do), friendship, murder, and small-town secrets. It’s about obsession, tragedy and love: “[L]ots of people had never been in love… they make do with good intentions… they hide away in the comfort of a crummy existence and shy away from that amazing feeling that is probably the only thing that justifies being alive.”
The Truth About was recommended in the way many good books are: my Galt high school home room teacher saw it at the library’s front desk and asked that every book ever written by Dicker be added to the collection. (With this column, your suggestion is forwarded to the folks responsible for purchasing decisions.)
Now you, sitting over there. Eating the special of the day. Jot something down on that napkin and you too, might discover that you are a writer.
The City of Sherbrooke’s Second Borough Writing Competition short story contest deadline is November 28, 2014. Check out the rules (on length and subject matter) at the Lennoxville Library. And if you want to talk about writing or listen to writers talk about writing, the Knowlton Literary Festival begins today.
– Eleanor Brown, October 17, 2014