The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

HarryJoël Dicker

First Sentence:     My book was the talk of the town.

Back of the book:

August 30, 1975. The day of the disappearance. The day a small New Hampshire town lost its innocence.

That summer Harry Quebert fell in love with fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan. Thirty-three years later, her body is dug up from his yard along with a manuscript copy of his career-defining novel. Quebert is the only suspect.

Marcus Goldman – Quebert’s most gifted protégé – throws off his writer’s block to clear his mentor’s name. Solving the case and penning a new bestseller soon blur together. As his book begins to take on a life of its own, the nation is gripped by the mystery of ‘The Girl Who Touched the Heart of America’. But with Nola, in death as in life, nothing is ever as it seems.

Quote from the book:

“A new book, Marcus, is the start of a new life. It’s also an act of great generosity; You are offering, to whoever wishes to discover it, a part of yourself. Some will love it, some will hate it. Some will worship you, others will despise you. Some will be jealous, others interested. But you’re not writing it for them. You’re writing it for all those who, in their daily lives, will enjoy a sweet moment because of Marcus Goldman. You may say that doesn’t sound like much, but it’s actually quite something. Some writers want to change the world. But who can really change the world?”

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The Investigation

The Investigation

Philippe Claudel

First Sentence:     As he stepped out of the station the Investigator was met by a fine rain mingled with wet, slushy snow.

Back of the book:

The Investigator is despatched to a provincial town to find out the truth behind a disturbing spate of suicides amongst employees of the Firm.

But from the moment he steps off the train, he finds himself in a world that is alien, unrecognisable, and diabolically complex. From the hostile weather and the fickle hospitality at Hotel Hope to the town’s bewildering inhabitants, everything seems to be against him to the point where he wonders whether he is trapped in a recurring nightmare, or has passed into the realm of death itself. Cold, hungry and humiliated, always one step behind, he nevertheless remains determined to find the only man he can hold to account – the Firm’s legendary but elusive founder.

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Heaven and Hell

Jón Kalman Stefánsson

First Sentence:  The mountains tower above life and death and these houses huddling together on the Spit.

Life and death is what it’s all about in this magnificent novel. I’d never heard of Jón Kalman Stefánsson before and just picked this up on a whim. After reading Sjón’s wonderful From the Mouth of the Whale I was in search of more Icelandic goodness and I’m happy to say this didn’t disappoint. It is set in a remote fishing village and follows Bárður and ‘the boy’ as they go out fishing  one morning. When tragedy strikes at sea, the boy is left bereft and decides to abandon the village to return a book to a blind old sea-captain who lives over the mountains. When he reaches this new village he realises he is not alone in suffering and begins to see the world as a slightly less harsh place. Make no mistake though, it is an extremely harsh existence the boy has, his mother, father, brothers and sister have all died and from beginning to end his trials are depicted through the most glorious prose-poetry by Stefánsson . The whole story puts me in mind of Halldór Laxness with its emphasis on solitude and independence and the constant struggle for survival. When I finished this book I put it down and just sat for a while. I think a passage towards the end of the book would indicate that this is a good thing:

Silence after a long narrative indicates whether it has mattered or was told for nothing, indicates whether the narrative had entered and touched something or just shortened the hours and nothing more.

This book does a lot more than just shorten the hours. (Keep reading for more quotes.)

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The Foxes Come at Night

Cees Nooteboom

First Sentence:    I am my own barometer, he said as they stood peering at the barometer.

Before this, the only book of Nooteboom’s I had read was The Following Story. At the time I remember wanting to like The Following Story a lot more than I actually did, and now, years later I can’t for the life of me remember why, or even what it was all about. I was therefore a bit reluctant when I started this collection of short stories but I’m definitely glad I did. In a way this collection could even be read as a novel as there are a lot of recurring characters and the central theme, death, is present in all the stories. For example one story where a character is trying to contact his dead friend is followed by another story written by that friend. After her death. I’m not entirely sure why, but in some ways this book reminded me of Ishiguro’s Nocturnes, another fine collection of short stories which has one theme linking them all, this time music. The story to get the ‘First Sentence Last Sentence’ treatment is the 2nd one and it’s called Thunderstorm. In it a couple witness a tragedy during a thunderstorm and for me it captures the subtleties of human relationships perfectly in just a few brief pages. Throughout this book there are countless re-readable sentences and here’s just one:

There were myriads of stars, more than you ever see here, a whole sea of infinitely distant other worlds, signs, shapes, scrolls in the incredible stillness.

If nothing else, this book makes me want to go back and read The Following Story again. Just to see what I’d make of it now…

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Brodeck’s Report

Philippe Claudel

First Sentence:   My name is Brodeck and I had nothing to do with it.

This book won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2010. Like Monsieur Linh  and His Child it is set in an unnamed place, though it does not take long to deduce that the time is not long after World War Two, and the place is some remote French village. The protagonist and narrator, Brodeck, has returned from a concentration camp and usually spends his days doing up reports on the local flora and fauna. All is as it should be in this peaceful village until the Anderer (the ‘other’ / the ‘foreigner’) arrives and unsettles the local community. One night the men of the village kill this Anderer and Brodeck, being a man of letters, is called upon to present a report of the killing to the mayor. As he investigates, he uncovers dark truths about our fear of anything different. This almost reads like a fable, and really, time and place are irrelevant with a book like this because the lessons learned could be applied to anyone, anywhere, at any time. This book is sometimes dark, often rambling, but never dull and is definitely worthy of its reputation. Though personally, I preferred Monsieur Linh…

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