The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

by Joël Dicker

I can’t recall whether I put it on my list or not, but I definitely should have. I bought the book on impulse after work one day (the benefits of working in an insanely huge hypermarket or whatever it is), but never got around to actually reading it – you know, with what the list and everything. I actually got a bit of buyer’s remorse at home, wondering whether the book was really as promising as it had seemed at the store.

Oh, it was.

I read it in about 6ish hours while on board the booze cruise between Helsinki and Tallinn, Estonia. “Booze cruise?”, I hear you ask. Well, the Finnish government thinks drinking is a huge national health issue and taxes alcohol rather heavily. Finns, being either irritated by this particular policy or just being cheap, travel en masse by ship to countries such as Estonia, where alcohol is less expensive due to lighter taxes. They drag back as much beer and other beverages as they can carry, pull or fit in a car within the import limits and drink plenty while on way. Of course, as the ships also travel outside Finnish waters, tax free on board saves the trouble of visiting the harbor towns altogether for the lazy or hung over.

I didn’t drink and woke up early, so I had plenty of time to read in relative peace before the still drunk or hung over flooded the ship corridors and decks. And so I read, and I totally love the book. At first I thought I knew what happened, then I was no longer so sure and the end really was worth the trip (as sadly isn’t always quite the case). I had some right ideas and I guessed some of the plot twists, but it didn’t go quite as I had thought, and the murderer (there is one) is really NOT someone you’d first think about, and not even the tenth. Totally unexpected.

Also, mr. Dicker has the outstanding skill of letting you believe one where the truth is exactly the opposite, quite alike the best Agatha Christie mysteries. Also, I half thought that he was American as that’s where the book is situated, but he’s from Switzerland. At least for me the feeling he gave off in describing the setting (a small town in New England) was very believable. I’ve never been to U.S.A. and everything I know is from books, so I might be mistaken. An American reader of the book might think it was all wrong, do tell me if you know better on this.

My copy is a Finnish translation, and I thought I couldn’t finish 809 pages on board, no chance. There are a lot of short interlude chapters on the way, making it a bit faster read compared to a book of similar length with less chapters. One should pay attention to the interludes though, as they tell a story all their own. The story goes on in so many levels one must really use some concentration to keep in mind who said what and when and to whom.

I appreciated how the main character had very believable faults. There was one point that stuck out a bit, but if you haven’t read the book I shan’t go into any more detail. Even that little hitch had a point in the story and added a whole another level. Somehow it just was as smoothly inserted as some other plot moves. All in all, I don’t think it’s that major a fault, just something I didn’t find quite logically sound.

The supporting cast were also sound characters, acting out all the same mistakes everyday people make. And when one gets around to digging, we all have our secrets, just like these imaginary ones. Theirs are just on average weirder than with me or you… or let’s at least just agree that it’s so.

All in all, were I in the habit of dishing out stars, this would get a 4,99/5. Not a full five, but so close it’s almost the same thing. So, if you’re into thrillers or crime books or just a good read in general, do give it a try.

I think in the end we did get to the bottom of the Harry Quebert affair. We must have.


On Critique

I happened to notice yesterday that my fanfic (as mentioned before) has been added to a community. This particular community seems to be a listing by one user. Apparently, the sole purpose of this list is that the person adding to it thinks that the stories added are rubbish. I quote:

Stories gathered that appear to be Mary Sue, Fallen Into M.E., Poorly written or things along that nature. I wanted to group them because I would never read them. Is your fiction here?
I am a writer irl and I get a lot of help in my writing. People feel their writing is flawless and after churning out just a few hours or work it is epic. So they whine to me it does not belong here instead of using this chance to grow as a writing and fix it. I admit I’m not the best writer. Can you?

From the second sentence of that quote I come to the assumption that they’ve not actually read any of the stories they add.

They say they get a lot of help on their writing from others, but I cannot remember ever receiving a constructive critique from the user that added my story to this group. Probably because she has not read the actual story. They are willing to judge without reading what they judge, and everyone questioning the reason for them being on this list are labeled as whiners.

I wonder why this person won’t take the time to actually read and and give critique to those they add to their little hate-list (little is used liberally, there are over 500 stories in the community). Perhaps judging a tale by a summary is easier than actually taking the time of reading the first couple chapters and finding out if the story is worth reading or not. I don’t particularly like some stories but then I just stop reading and move on. There’s something for everyone, someone else might enjoy a story I don’t care about.

I do not presume to call myself a writer. I do write, and I would cite writing as a hobby. I cannot support myself by writing alone and it is not my profession – though I sure hope it would be. I can admit I am not the best writer (those are some enormous boots to fill), but then, one would have to be very conceited to think they were.

I am also the first to admit that the story is nothing particularly astounding. It is a very basic romance, but that is all I wanted it to be. Sure, there is a lot I should change (and maybe some day I’ll get to it, but the story needs to cool down a bit first) and a lot to expand on, but all in all, it’s better than many other stories out there. First of all, for a non-native speaker I think my text is written in good grammar and vocabulary. I have tried to weed out every typo I could find, and there really isn’t a writer alive who wouldn’t occasionally typo something. The story is sound, sure there are clichés, but who can avoid clichés when writing a romance?

I do not see my main character as a Mary Sue. She might not be the most in-depth heroine ever, but for the purposes of the story she is perfect. She grows through the tale. She is not perfect, which is one of the key traits of Mary Sue-ness. She most certainly is not me – hey, I would certainly roll in the hay with Éomer, were he not a fictional character – and I would not want to be her. I must remember to write a post about Mary Sues in the future.

This is an excerpt from their profile. This particular profile hasn’t published any stories so I assumed it’s only for the sole purpose of providing silly “criticism”.

It’s really hard to write and I find it funny so many people get defensive thinking their writing is so amazing and try to defend it with bad writing, unrealistic facts or situations, the same thing written in another light(over and over), over angst, fluffs, Mary Sues, falling into the plot by a magic portal and so on. Instead learn why it is not liked and make it better or you’re really not writing for anybody but you. If that is the case why are you posting it on the internet? If it is just because you like it and you’re not going to learn how to write or make that story better then put it on pen and paper and read to yourself. People here are always going to have an opinion and they will voice it. It is really up to the person if they will work and grow for their writing or if they will whine why people do not like it.

I have read some fantastic girl-falls-into-Middle-Earth -stories in my time. Apparently, just because of one major plot device the whole story is poorly written and should never see the light of day. It seems to me that this particular person needs to lighten up. Fiction shouldn’t be taken so seriously, especially when the site is named FANfiction. One doesn’t need to be a Literary Nobel laureate to write a fanfic. Just a very patient person with a basic grasp of grammar and lots of free time.

(And apparently the skin of an elephant.)

Allow me to explain: Not so very long ago I had a conversation with another writer. She does dabble with romance novels and they are published. Feel free to roll your eyes if you will when I say romance novels. However she is a great writer with her research in two ways. One she would search dictionaries and the net for her perfect words so you are not reading the same words over and over and to find words that stick with you; that are stuck in your mind. Two she throws herself into that real life situation (easily being she writes mostly modern). […]

I mention this to explain how engrossed you must be in research to make it real to your readers. Nobody expects anybody here to be published. If a writer expects everybody to love their writing when they have not even taken the time to research their topics they will only have an audience that is as much the novice as they are. Keep in mind you are publishing on the internet which is public and if you cannot suffer the slings and arrows tossed at you then you would never be a writer. Choices are to do something and do it well are entirely up to each person but do not expect respect for something you did not put research or effort.

Engrossed in research? You say this when you add stories to your little list without even reading them?

I did my research. I read the entire History of Middle-Earth series (which I bought specifically for research, might I add), studied maps (The Atlas of Middle-Earth <3), re-read the books, underlined paragraphs, took notes… I hope one can see that I didn’t take the easiest route if one takes the time to read a chapter or two. Oh wait.

I wasn’t that upset after I first noticed the community and read the manager’s profile. But today at word the absurdity just started to peeve me. I mean, I’m basically told two years of work is garbage because I cannot write a good summary. I cannot answer to this critique-less criticism because then I’m a whiner who should grow as a person and learn to see I’m not as good as I think I am. (BTW, then I would have to be pretty crappy, I don’t think that highly of myself…)

I cannot deny that I have room for improvement. But I don’t need to be told that by a person who sits on a horse so high they can’t see down. If you want to criticize others you will have to offer some insight as to where you’re yourself at. I would love to read a sample of this person’s own writing, but alas I’m not offered the chance.

Well, I think that’s all I can say about the subject. I know the addition of my story to the community is baseless (by the criterion set by the manager themselves), but I’m not going to try and do anything about it. It isn’t deserving of my attention past this post.

Basically, I wrote all this to rail at a perceived injustice. Anyone is free to judge my story for themselves. I have and I am aware of its faults.