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Joel Dicker Shares 'The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair'

Photo Jeremy Spierer
Writers block, mentorship and murder are the subjects of Joel Dicker's breakout novel.

Joel Dicker is the author of the international bestseller, "The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair." The 28-year-old author seems – on the surface – to have a lot in common with his protagonist. 

Dicker's novel is a blockbuster, first in Europe and now in the U.S. The same's true with the hero of his book, Marcus Goldman. But in the book, Goldman finds himself wrapped up in several layers of self-angst and mystery, at the center of which are 1) a murder and 2) his mentor.

"It's the story of a young author Marcus Goldman that just had massive success with his first book," Dicker says in an interview with The Texas Standard's Emily Donahue. "When it comes time to write his second novel, he realizes he's facing a  writer's block. So he decides to go to see his mentor and former professor, Harry Quebert, who lives in New Hampshire."

"Harry is the one who taught Marcus how to write a novel," Dicker continues. "Marcus goes to see him in New Hampshire, he stays there for a few weeks. And the inspiration [doesn't] come back. He goes back to New York, and after a few weeks, he sees on TV that Harry just got arrested after the police dug out of his backyard the body of a young girl [who] disappeared 30 years ago."

That's the beginning of a fast-paced, narrative replete with several twists and a full complement of hysterical characters – all of which, Dicker says, he wrote as one 600 page chapter. After inserting several chapters (and then more chapters), it became a sort of book within a book within a book.

Is there any truth buried in that fiction? Dicker is clear that the only thing remotely autobiographical in this book is his love of a small New England town where he spent his childhood summers, and Harry's love for his own small town in New Hampshire.

Dicker's keeping the identity of his small town a secret. "Basically I decided to set this story in [that] small town in New Hampshire because I spent all my summers in Maine as a kid," Dicker says. "I really felt like I wanted to tell how beautiful is New England, and then when I really worked on my book, I decided to set the story in New Hampshire so I could protect Maine, I guess," he laughs.

Dicker and Donahue talk about the plot, the characters and Marcus Goldman's search for truth – both about himself and his mentor. You can hear the entire interview (and some hints about Dicker's next novel) by clicking the audio. 


Emily Donahue is a former grants writer for KUT. She previously served as news director and helped launch KUT’s news department in 2001.