The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

Ok a few truths.

TruthAboutHarryThe Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair was originally written and published in French. The Swiss author, 28-year-old Joël Dicker’s first novel wasn’t a big hit, but he followed it up by writing this 600 page satire of  a young American man (his age) who writes one bestseller and then can’t write anything else.

His pushy agent and publisher threaten law suits and ruin unless he meets a deadline on his next big thing. Rather than write, he visits his ageing writing professor in New Hampshire, who was once a young man who wrote a bestseller and then didn’t write anything else. He gives him advice that prefaces many of the chapters:

“Books are interchangeable: People want a story that excites them, relaxes them, entertains them. And if you don’t give them that, someone else will – and you’ll be history.”

More truth.

Harry QuebertYesterday I was in the popular French bookstore FNAC (a kind of WH Smith equivalent) in Lyon and saw La Vérité sur l’Affaire Harry Quebert is still in the Number 1 slot. I saw it the day before in the giant supermarket Carrefour in the same position. It’s been a bestseller for over a year in France.

I do love watching a book become a runaway success and don’t always read them, but this is a book in translation, double victory –  the rights sold to 35 countries and translated into 37 languages and it won two prestigious French book awards.

The Harsh Truth.

However despite all the accolades, I have to be honest and say that I did not enjoy the read, it offered very little in terms of what I like to get from a book and worse, it annoyed me immensely in parts.

Maybe Not Your Truth Though.

But first the story, because it is a somewhat compelling read which many have and still may enjoy; full of twists and turns, a disappearance,a cold case reopened, concerning teenage girls, older men, appearances not what they seem, everyone with something to hide and more twists than an old-fashioned telephone cord. So many twists in fact, I can’t remember who did it. No, everyone did it, didn’t they? Well, Dicker certainly has a skill in making you think they’re all capable of murder.

So Marcus Goldman is living the life of a rich and famous writer in New York on the strength of a debut bestseller, when his writers block starts to have menacing consequences and he has to come up with a solution, quickly. He visits his old university professor Harry Quebert, whom he had kind of forgotten while he was busy being famous and pursued by actresses and other celebs. Not long after his visit, Harry is accused of the murder of Nola Kellergan (Nola, Lola, Lolita?), a 15-year-old girl who disappeared 30 years ago, whose remains are discovered, implicating Harry Quebert.

Marcus returns to Harry’s home when he is arrested and makes the investigation of his innocence his new purpose in life, he meddles in police affairs, interviews locals and even receives his own menacing threats penned by someone who wants him to leave town. The case might well provide him with the solution he requires, as his publisher asks him to write The Truth about what went on between Harry Quebert and Nola Kellergan.

Joel Dicker

Joël Dicker speaking in FNAC bookstore

A Consuming Truth

Viewing the wall of bestsellers is the first thing you see when you enter major supermarkets in France like Geant Casino and Carrefour; it says a lot about local culture that people are being enticed to grab a book at the very first moment they enter a supermarket! I don’t think I have seen that in any other country, I have listened to experts talk about enticing customers with fresh healthy fruit at the entrance, but not literature.

Too Many Additives

For me, although I get the requirement of a modern social satire to exaggerate, the Harry Quebert story carried too many characters that were inflated caricatures of American stereotypes, with insufficient humour to make it work. Trying to be a satire, a pastiche and a murder mystery with its innumerable twists made it for me, like a cocktail made by an unsupervised teenager  who, rather than combining two ingredients, like a mature pre-adult can’t resist adding a little of everything on offer until ultimately it becomes unpalatable.

I viewed it as an outsiders attempt at making a comment on modern American society, media, publishing, the sensationalism and obsession with broadcasting the trials of celebrities. That a 28-year-old writer could enter into a police murder investigation and  didn’t ring true enough for me to be able to read it without the constant presence of low-level annoyance at its flaws. Perhaps if I had saved it for a summer read when my expectations are lower, I may have enjoyed it more.

I do love that a French bestseller was picked up by international publishers and translated into English, the author interviewed in The Observer and elsewhere, but sadly, this award-winning novel wasn’t my cup of tea.

Great Gatsby2And in a twist of Great Gatsbyish irony, it seems that thousands of the English translation books are languishing in storage, waiting for a boom that has yet to arrive. Will it take a generation to be revered as an apt indictment of the times or will it languish in obscurity as a publishers costly mistake?

Further Reading:

The Observer Article Joël Dicker: ‘I lost a bit of control of my life’

Note: This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher via NetGalley.

Literary Blog Hop Winners!

 

I am delighted that two readers will soon be turning the pages of these wonderful books:

Carrots and Jaffas, an insightful imagining of a period in the life of identical twin boys when they become separated and;

The Blue Room a stunning translation of Norwegian Literature, a book that spans a day in the life of a young woman locked in her bedroom by her mother.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Literary Blog Hop and thanks again to Judith at Leeswammes for organising it. I’ve had lots of visitors here and a few new followers.

The Winner of  Carrots and Jaffas is….

AMB wins

A.M.B!

who writes about books, writing, and the law at The Misfortune of Knowing

The Winner of The Blue Room is…..

Madness

 Elizabeth who writes about love, self acceptance and confidence at ChubbyMadness

I hope you enjoy the books,  I would love to hear your thoughts on them and thank you to everyone else for participating, you are all winners really!

Happy Reading!

Literary Blog Hop Book #Giveaway

From today until Wednesday June 25th I am participating along with many other international bloggers in a Literary Blog Hop Giveaway hosted by Judith at Leeswamme’s Blog, an avid reader and reviewer from the Netherlands.

literarybloghop

Comment below to win the books I am offering and visit the other blogs to enter their offers.

I am offering two books, recent reads and not the usual thing you find in a bookshop. Both titles are literary gems, one an award-winning Norwegian translation, the other a riveting, thought-provoking glimpse into a cross cultural family that thanks to blogging and twitter connections I became aware of. They are fabulous reads, but do check out my reviews first to find out if they sound like something you might enjoy.

You can enter for one title only or for both, one comment puts you in the draw for both books, unless you tell me you are only interested in one of the titles. Ok, here they are:

COMMENT to WIN A COPY of

The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik translated by Deborah Dawkin - read my review here.

“a gripping portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship that will send a chill down your spine.”

OR

Carrots and Jaffas by Howard Goldenberg – read my review here.

 “a glimpse into the heart of an ancient land and a fractured family, through the story of a stolen child.”

 

BlogHop Button

To enter the giveaway, open worldwide to anyone whether you have a blog or not, just leave a comment below to be entered in the draw.

Follow my blog Word by Word to get two chances to win and mention it in your comment.

Follow the blog Word by Word and @clairewords on twitter to have three entries in the draw.

If you are already following, make sure to remind me in your comment.

Good Luck and enjoy visiting the other blogs listed here, just click to visit:

Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. The Misfortune of Knowing
  3. Bibliosue
  4. Too Fond
  5. Under a Gray Sky
  6. Read Her Like an Open Book (US)
  7. My Devotional Thoughts
  8. WildmooBooks
  9. Guiltless Reading
  10. Fourth Street Review
  11. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  12. Word by Word
  13. Words And Peace (US)
  14. Ciska’s Book Chest
  15. Falling Letters
  16. Roof Beam Reader
  17. Readerbuzz
  18. The Relentless Reader (US)
  19. Mom’s Small Victories (US)
  20. Daily Mayo (US)
  1. The Emerald City Book Review (US)
  2. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
  3. Lost Generation Reader
  4. Booklover Book Reviews
  5. Bay State Reader’s Advisory
  6. River City Reading (US)
  7. Books Speak Volumes
  8. Words for Worms
  9. Wensend
  10. Bibliophile’s Retreat
  11. Readers’ Oasis
  12. The Book Musings
  13. My Book Retreat (N. Am.)
  14. Books on the Table (US)

Carrots and Jaffas

Allia NurseAll quiet on the blogging and reading front recently as life’s dramas intervened and demanded my full attention. Our daughter had a diabetic crisis 2 weeks ago and has been in hospital, she is stable now and happy to be home and said I can use this new picture she created for her Facebook page.

Consequently I have been carrying Carrots and Jaffas around with me and rereading passages, though I finished it more than 2 weeks ago and finally today had time while our son was at hip hop to move my scribbles here. Apologies Howard for taking so long to share your wonderful book.

Carrots and Jaffas is a wonderful example of how the virtual world allows us to come across writing voices that we don’t always find in bookshops or through mainstream publishers, that don’t require one to have publishing connections or be in the know. Just to be open to the random, serendipitous crossing of paths.

We find them when we are curious, someone may write 140 characters on twitter that prompt us to follow them, read their blog, consider their book and Voila, an instinct results in the arrival of a unique and intriguing book and an unforgettable reading experience.

Howard Goldenberg followed me on twitter, and this is what I saw when I considered whether to follow back.

Howard Tweets

 

Intrigued, I clicked on his blog link and perhaps uncharacteristically, as his posts are quite varied, the first thing I read was a book review for a book called Joyful by Robert Hillman. The author name seemed familiar, so I read on and was captivated by the review, not just Howard’s account of the story, but the homage to the book and its author his review paid. I thought not only does this sound like a wonderful book, but I want to read more of Howard Goldenberg’s writing and continued to read post after enthralling post.

When his novel Carrots and Jaffas arrived I opened the first page and read praise of the book by the author I mention above, Robert Hillman and a few pages further on, I realised why the name had sounded familiar. There on a page of epigrams preceding the first chapter I read the following quote from one of my Top Reads of 2013 The Honey Thief I reviewed here:

“My heart and my mind, my bones and my flesh and all the organs of my body are bound together with the cords of the stories I was told.” From The Honey Thief by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman

CarrotsCarrots and Jaffas is a story of twin boys, one of whom will be stolen, the people who surround them and whom they encounter, and how the events that occur change their lives and character.

The boys are the identical sons of Luisa and Bernard, a couple who worked and met in the same hotel. We are witness to their initial encounters and courtship in the opening chapters of the book, Luisa with her unique use of the English language, peppered with old-fashioned biblical words and quotes, charming in her deliverance. Bernard is enraptured by this exotic woman who interprets his comments in ways he could not have imagined, and is curious to understand more.

A month or so into these pleasant outings, an envelope appears on Bernard’s desk. Square in shape, lilac in colour, unbusinesslike, it sits on his keyboard like a question mark. Curious, he picks it up. A hint of gardenia in his nostrils. Bernard, more than curious, hefts the envelope, feels its substance. Fast fingers break the seal and Bernard reads:

La Señorita Luisa Morales

Has pleasure in inviting

El Señor Bernard Wanklyn

To Mate.

The delight and humour encountered in their courtship sits in stark contrast to the first pages in which we are witness to a kidnapping and the deranged thinking of the captor as we understand he justifies his act with thoughts of retribution for an elderly Aborigine lady Greta, who had two sons stolen from her by the authorities many years before, something that pains her still today.

Louisa and Bernard’s family unit is a metaphor for lives changed by tragic disappearance, the intersection of mixed cultures, social classes, politics and dysfunctional families. Luisa is an Argentinian immigrant whose parents were part of the “disappeared” during the time of the generals. After her grandmother took her to the park one day when she was three years, ago, they returned to discover both her parents gone, disappeared. Her grandmother continues to sit with Las Madres of the disappeared, mothers waiting, never giving up hope that their sons and daughters might return.

Separation changes relationship dynamics and Goldenberg deftly handles the effect of passive versus active separation on the identical twins with surprising, thought-provoking results. The experience is unusual and exposes the reader to the positive growth of someone in an otherwise traumatic situation. Observing the separate experiences of the twins exposes the suffering of those left behind, helpless in their efforts to find their son, the brother and yet when we are with Jaffas we are not afraid for him.

Image from the film Rabbit Proof Fence based on book by Doris Pilkington

Image from the film Rabbit Proof Fence based on book by Doris Pilkington

There are so many layers and learnings, such acute observations and joy in language and celebration of storytelling in this novel, it is difficult to describe without spoiling the experience for the reader, the spontaneous humour, the obvious cultural aspects, all round it was a pleasure to read and engaging all the way through. There were perhaps a few too many coincidences that made me pause for consideration, but then we know stranger things happen in real life and certain experiences can tend to gravitate towards people, repeating in history, so I let it pass.

Thoroughly recommend seeking this out and checking out Howard’s blog here. He writes fun poetry too.

Thank you @HelenHelenback for sending me a copy of the book.

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Winner

It seems like a very long time since we learned of the short list.

My blog post about the shortlist is here, and it gives a one sentence summary about each of the books, the only book I have read and reviewed, so of course it is my favourite is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah which I reviewed here.

Here are the six novels that were shortlisted for the prize:

Today Peirene Press are running their weekly quiz using the hashtag #PeiQuiz and their question is:

PeiQuiz

My answer to the quiz was:

PeiQuiz2

a book I read recently, which was not only a great story, but one you won’t be able to stop thinking about and one I gave a rare 5 stars to. You can read the review here if you missed it.

But back to the Baileys Prize!

The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014 is….

 

 

Baileys 2014 winner

Congratualtions to Eimear McBride and Galley Beggars Press, a fabulous result for a novel that was written in six months and took 10 years to find its place in the world, proof if ever there was for writers to continue to persevere!

Further Reading

Review - Eric Karl Anderson at Lonesome Reader, who read them all and accurately picked the winner, he writes excellent reviews, I recommend following

Review - Anne Enright’s review of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing in The Guardian.

The Blue Room

Blue Room2The Blue Room is the latest novella from Peirene Press, a publishing concept I wrote about here.

Peirene’s novellas always promise something a little different, a mix of women and men authors, all of them originating in a language other than English and sometimes writers whose work is being translated into English for the first time.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of there being so little fiction of foreign origin translated into English (4-5%), is the grand opportunity that awaits publisher’s like Peirene Press and Gallic Books to discover true gems of literature to share with the English reading world.

Story telling is universal and equally engaging no matter where it comes from. Just like travel, literature in translation can offer insights into another culture and perspective.

June’s coming-of-age novella, The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik translated by Deborah Dawkin, is already well-known in Norway and internationally; she has written numerous books which have been translated into 18 languages, though not until now, into English. The recipient of literary awards in Norway including the Doblou Prize for her entire literary output, she is one of the most admired  authors in contemporary Norwegian literature.

Provoking readers with her large, bold font message on the opening page, Meike Zeirvogel says of The Blue Room:

“Everyone who has read Fifty Shades of Grey should read this book. Why?

The Blue Room holds up a mirror to a part of the female psyche that yearns for submission. The story shows how erotic fantasies are formed by the relationship with our parents. It then delves further to analyse the struggle of women to separate from their mothers – a struggle that is rarely addressed in either literature or society.”

Making us wonder what revelations might unfold.

Johanne lives with her mother in a small apartment, she occupies the only bedroom, her mother hangs a curtain in the living room and sleeps there. The story starts on the day Johanne is due to leave for America with her boyfriend Ivar. She wakes to find the door to her bedroom locked and no response from the other side.

As she spends the day in her room, musing on the likely action and varying theoretical states of mind of Ivar, who would have waited for her and come to his own conclusions concerning her absence, she also thinks back over the past two weeks since she first met him at the university canteen, in between her lectures on psychology, some of which she shares with us, creating a bland kind of irony; the reader can’t help but read significance into the lessons she is learning in class as events play out in her life, where she discovers the essence of her slumbering sexuality, awakened in the shadow of her mother’s history, coming to us in flashes.

BlueFrom the first pages, I recognise it as a slow read, sentences that beg to be read twice, thoughts expressed that benefit from quiet reflection and words that hum from the page in clandestine harmony.

“Suddenly it came over me again and I started to cry. No sobbing, just tears. Water, I thought, nothing but salt water, dropping onto the paper, making minuscule white suns. Clearly the slat had an effect on the colours, erasing them. I didn’t understand what was happening inside me. Then it passed, like a rain cloud, drifting away.”

Although it wouldn’t be called a mystery or suspense novel, there exists all through the pages a sense of foreboding and it was almost with relief that I turned the last pages, half expecting something more sinister to await me or perhaps that was the latent effect of the suspense novel that I did read before embarking on this.

It captures the natural evolution of innocence and like the allure of watching two colours mix on a canvas to see what shade it will yield, first it is necessary to know one’s own true colour before we can observe or understand the effect when it combines with another.

An alluring read, that captivates as it reveals.

Looking forward to the next in the series!

 

 

 

Before I Go to Sleep

SleepChristine wakes up in the morning and doesn’t recognise the man sleeping in the bed next to her. Nor do the photos posted in the bathroom assist her, they refuse to evoke any memories. Every day she wakes with the same feeling, she remembers nothing of the past 20 years and is surprised to find herself middle-aged and wonders who is in the bed beside her.

Her doctor suggests she begins to write things into a journal that she can read each morning, promising to call her in the morning to tell her where the journal is, so she can quickly bring herself up to date with what she has leaned the previous day.

He also suggests she keeps it to herself, that she not share it with her husband. Can she trust her doctor, can she trust her husband? The journal both helps and confuses her, until ultimately it reveals what she needs to know and the incredible facts that have been kept from her.

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J.Watson is an award-winning crime/thriller novel, a best seller when it came out – however it is not the kind of book I would usually choose to read, which probably best explains why it was an okay read for me and not one that I can say too much about.

It’s a suspense novel, however because a large portion of the novel is taken up with reading Christine’s journal, (about two-thirds of the novel) the suspense is delayed (in my opinion) until the last 50 pages and that middle section is more one of mild intrigue. It can get a little repetitive as each day she must go through the same thing, slowly learning more about what happened to her to cause her amnesia and what has happened in the last twenty years. A very long time.

The reader becomes increasingly suspicious despite Christine’s best intentions to convince us that everything is okay. S.J.Watson is good at withholding any clue to what will eventually be revealed, however some of these absences felt inauthentic, as if Christine wasn’t really interested in finding out more about the people around her and why there only appear to be two people in her life, her husband and her doctor. It might have been more intense if she’d been more curious and insistent to know the truth and challenged those she is in contact with about the inconsistencies.

One of the measures of a great book for me is to highlight passages throughout a book, sentences and paragraphs that make me want to reread, that create an image, that evoke something, they are the literary gems. This is not that kind of book, but I am happy that it was suggested by the book club, we had a very interesting discussion about it and the idea of losing one’s memory or another sense.

And for fans of the book, it looks like there is a film in the making, with Nicole Kidman as Christine:

Sleep Tweet

And in another thread on twitter S.J.Watson admits that he has finished his long-awaited, next book.

TruthAboutHarryAnd even though I say it’s not my genre, I am about to read another, knowing that it too probably won’t offer much in terms of literary highlights, but this thriller is a French translation that is taking the world by storm.

It has already become a bestseller in France with over 2 million copies sold in Europe and was part of a heated auction for the English publication rights. It has to be read if one wants to contribute to the conversation after all.

So watch out for The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, the debut novel by 28-year-old Swiss author Joël Dicker, likely to be a popular read this summer.

Interview in The Observer Joël Dicker: ‘I lost a bit of control of my life’