In Swiss author Dicker’s mystery, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, Marcus Goldman, a young writer based in New York, travels to New Hampshire to prove that his college mentor, celebrated author Harry Quebert, didn’t murder his teenage lover, Nola Kellergan, years before.
Why set your novel in a quintessential small town in New Hampshire?
Though I am Swiss, I spent nearly every summer since the age of four in New England, especially in Maine. The idea to set the novel in New England came naturally. It was my sixth novel, and after five novels set in Europe, I wanted to change the decor. But also because it was my first novel written in the first person. Situating the intrigue in New England allowed me to keep certain credibility without falling into autobiographical fiction by placing my main character in Geneva.
What was your inspiration?
My first idea was to tell the story of a master writer, Harry Quebert, and his student, Marcus Goldman, who also becomes a close friend. After turning this around in my head, I decided to focus on a particular incident in Harry Quebert’s life, when he fell in love with a 15-year-old girl in the summer 1975.
Your novel shows the pitfalls of being a celebrity.
It’s not so much that the book talks about the cult of celebrity as about the perception of celebrity by people of my generation. As if achieving celebrity status was a sign of social success, when in fact, achieving celebrity status is social endangerment. I think that’s the main question of my book. He who becomes a celebrity loses a part of himself. Whether he likes it or not, he becomes obligated to share a bit of himself with those who know him and recognize him.
Your novel also includes a series of writing lessons. What was your most important lesson about writing?
To never stop writing, no matter how busy you are. Your book is constructed on paper but also in your head. If you can spend even just a few minutes each day writing, you will see your work advance despite everything.
Has a novel ever transformed your life?
Romain Gary’s The Roots of Heaven, first published in 1956, about a Frenchman’s efforts to save the African elephant. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful books around, and it speaks volumes on the question of our own humanity. It’s a book that raises a lot of questions, and a book that raises a lot of questions is, in fact, a book that never ends. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer.