Hot off the presses from Iceland Noir! The winner of the inaugural Icepick Award, given to the best crime novel translated into Icelandic in 2014, is…
… Swiss author Joël Dicker’s La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair], translated from the French by Friðrik Rafnsson.
This novel is a publishing phenomenon – here’s the blurb from Penguin, which has certainly made me want to read the book:
>> The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a fast-paced, tightly plotted, cinematic literary thriller, and an ingenious book within a book, by a dazzling young writer.
August 30, 1975: the day fifteen-year-old Nola Kellergan is glimpsed fleeing through the woods, never to be heard from again; the day Somerset, New Hampshire, lost its innocence. Thirty-three years later, Marcus Goldman, a successful young novelist, visits Somerset to see his mentor, Harry Quebert, one of the country’s most respected writers, and to find a cure for his writer’s block as his publisher’s deadline looms. But Marcus’s plans are violently upended when Harry is suddenly and sensationally implicated in the cold-case murder of Nola Kellergan—with whom he admits he had an affair. As the national media convicts Harry, Marcus launches his own investigation, following a trail of clues through his mentor’s books, the backwoods and isolated beaches of New Hampshire, and the hidden history of Somerset’s citizens and the man they hold most dear. To save Harry, his own writing career, and eventually even himself, Marcus must answer three questions, all of which are mysteriously connected: Who killed Nola Kellergan? What happened one misty morning in Somerset in the summer of 1975? And how do you write a book to save someone’s life?<<
The Icepick Award is judged both on the quality of the original work and its translation, acknowledging the vital role of the translator in allowing crime fiction to travel beyond national and linguistic boundaries to the ever grateful reader. The process of translating (which of course involves not just linguistic but detailed cultural knowledge) is often invisible, so it’s very welcome to see it being celebrated by the award.
The shortlist for the 2014 Icepick Award, with novels from America, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden, was as follows:
Joël Dicker, La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert [The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair] – Icelandic translation from French: Friðrik Rafnsson
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl – Icelandic translation from English: Bjarni Jónsson
Jo Nesbø, Panserhjerte [The Leopard] – Icelandic translation from Norwegian: Bjarni Gunnarsson
Håkan Nesser, Människa utan hund [Man Without Dog] – Icelandic translation from Swedish: Ævar Örn Jósepsson Antti Tuomainen, Veljeni vartija [My Brother’s Keeper] – Icelandic translation from Finnish: Sigurður Karlsson The award is founded by the Reykjavik Crime Festival Iceland Noir, The Icelandic Association of Translators and Interpreters and The Icelandic Crime Writing Association.
Oh, yahey! The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is almost certainly the book I’ve loved best of any I’ve read this year — a real standout. (Needless to say, it’s omitted from the Amazon Editors’ pick of the year’s crime fiction.) It deserves just about any award it gets, as far as I’m concerned!
Great to hear your recommendation – must get hold of this one now. No more excuses!
The Joël Dicker book sounds really interesting.
It does, doesn’t it? It sounds many-layered, which I like.
Thanks for sharing the breaking news, Mrs. P. I must say I absolutely love the name of that award!
It’s brilliant, isn’t it? Quite inspired!
I attempted to read the promising and well-recommended Dicker book, but found its beginning to be so amateurish and inauthentic that I put it away. Because the central figure came across as a first-class fool — an unbearably shallow person — I could not listen to his voice uncritically. Just a warning: Better luck to other readers!
Thanks, David. Interesting – hopefully it will get into its stride quickly (unless the voice is deliberately styled that way for narrative reasons?).
From the New Yorker review, an “ouch” description if ever there was one! “It’s the sort of novel you recommend to a grieving friend or coworker out on jury duty—somebody with temporarily disabled critical faculties trying to forget who or where they are.”
Isn’t it fun finding snarky reviews about books that other critics have praised to the skies? Let’s see: It was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt, which is kind of up there in proximity with the Booker; it won the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Academie Francaise and other prizes (including, now, the Icepick). But, hey, the New Yorker reviewer didn’t like it, so let’s quote that one.
It’s all good! Catbird Farm’s comment has flagged up the fact that there are critical differences in relation to this book, and yours has told me about the prestigious prizes it’s won, which I didn’t know. All very interesting and just makes me want to read HQ all the more 🙂
It’s not snarky. The review contains interview excerpts and observations about the author’s view of French literature. It leads me to attribute my disappointment less to poor translation and more to author vacuity.
my disappointment less to poor translation and more to author vacuity
The translation is superb; I’m not sure what you mean by “author vacuity”.
One thing that’s very misleading about the Penguin edition is that its cover highlights a review that compares this novel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Probably what the reviewer was trying to say is that it’s another big, fat, highly readable European crime novel that’s taking the world by storm, but that’s not what the quoted extract seems to imply. HQ doesn’t remotely resemble Scandinoir; in “feel” it reminded me a little of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind (although the two books are otherwise very different!).
If the translation is accurate, then it means the problem lies elsewhere: the author’s emptiness is my next supposition. This may be purely personal; I mean no affront. The prizes and the lavish praise simply prepared me for better writing. Better luck and good reading to all readers.
How far did you get into the book? I think you may be assuming that the narrator (who is indeed pretty naive) represents the voice of the author.
No, I meant that the author’s skills were defiicient. The protagonist was unbearable, unsubtle, and inauthentic. The “writer’s block” was unbelievable. I did not read very far, so freely blame my dropping out before the greatness of the book became clear. I am done responding now.
Dear David, dear Realthog,
I’ve just come back from a day out in Iceland to see your rather bracing exchanges. I do love a good bit of discussion on the blog, but also love it to be conducted in a harmonious spirit (I’m an old hippy at heart).
This book clearly elicits very strong reader responses. In these sorts of situations the blog asks that debates are conducted with mutual respect.
Yours, Mrs Peabody
Oh my, ouch indeed! I’m going to resist reading the review for now in case of spoilers and so I can make my own judgement, but will definitely do so afterwards 🙂
That sounded so good I just ordered it (in English) and in French for my daughter who is getting fairly fluent. 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing it!!
Great! About to do the same. Look forward to hearing what you both think of it (and cracking idea to get the French for your daughter – great way to get some fun, extra exposure to the language).
Interesting, looked at this book about six months ago in Bromley Hse, read the inside blurb, sounded interesting, but didn’t read. Then last week it’s been on display again at BH, was thinking
about it, now this, is this one of those moments!
Will have to see if it’s still available on Monday, am reading ‘Leaving Berlin’ at the moment, and enjoying it. As it’s a wet Sunday, just the book to get in too!
Sometimes a book’s time has come 🙂 I’ve had books sit on my shelves for months and months, until suddenly the moment was right. Odd thing, isn’t it?
I’ve just been sent Leaving Berlin. Looks interesting; keen to read!
This book sounds great; amused by dissenting reviews; need to read and make up my own mind. Thanks for telling me about it, had not heard of it before.
You’re welcome – keen to read and see what I think myself now. Do let me know how you get on!
I got this book when it came out, but it ended up slipping further and further down my TBR pile as I read more and more bad reviews – I think it was so heavily hyped that expectations were perhaps too high…However, I think it’s time to give it a bash, particularly in the wake of all the prizes it’s won. It IS huge, holding it up in my cold bedroom at night will be tough on the old hands, as of course I’ve got the hardback. Thanks Mrs P, for reminding me of this one!
Thanks, crimeworm. I hadn’t realised how much critical dissent there had been about this one. Will read first and then dive into some reviews. And will work on that extra body strength to enable me to pick it up!
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