Joel Dicker Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Joel Dicker
Photo: Jeremy Spierer

Joel Dicker

An interview with Joel Dicker

Your Web site says that you wrote The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair because you wanted to try your hand at an "American novel." Did you simply mean "set in America" or something else?
I simply wanted to place a work of fiction in a New England setting, a place I know well. Very quickly I realized that I was so familiar with the U.S. that I could allow myself to create an American town with American characters.

Actually, this book helped me discover a part of myself: that I could surpass my origins and my writing language and re-create a part of the United States in French.

It's impossible to read Harry Quebert without thinking of Lolita. How much — if at all — were you conscious of Nabokov's novel while writing your own?
The Lolita image came to me late. I was well into writing the book when I decided that Harry's character would have a relationship with a young girl. In my head I immediately made the link to Lolita, from which came my reference N-O-L-A, like L-O-L-I-T-A. However, having read Lolita when I was fifteen, I had an image which was much more naive than the image that hit me straight in the face when I reread the book a few months ago. I realized that we evolve with books, and that reading Lolita at age twenty-nine is a different experience from reading it at fifteen.

Does either Harry Quebert or The Origin of Evil have a real-life counterpart?
Not at all. Nothing in the book or in the characters is based on anything real, anything experienced or a true event. That's precisely why I like fiction: you can invent everything.

Like you, the novel's narrator is a young, attractive, and incredibly successful author. Do the parallels between Marcus Goldman and Joël Dicker go any deeper?
No, not at all. There is a little bit of me in each character. That's normal, since I'm the one who created them.

But aside from our common love of running, there is no more Marcus in me than there is Harry, Jenny, Tamara, Robert, or Gahalowood.

Many writers fall victim to what's called the sophomore slump. You did just the opposite and wrote a second book that was even more successful than your first. Did you—like your characters—experience a long period of writer's block before you began Harry Quebert? Did you have any inkling that you had written a million-plus-copy bestseller?
No, luckily I've never had writer's block. Sometimes I have doubts, as there are always lots of questions that arise while a book evolves, but I've never had a block. Doubt is good: it makes us reexamine ourselves and allows our work to progress. So, no, I never thought this book would be a bestseller, because of my doubts. In fact, I was wondering who among my friends would accept to read such a long manuscript all the way to the end!

You began your writing career early and founded a nature magazine when you were only ten. But then you went to law school before returning to writing. Why the detour?
Because I also wanted to study, and to get a diploma. There are no creative writing courses in Switzerland or France, and the humanities department at the university didn't interest me. I've always liked law. For me, it wasn't a detour. I like variety.

Who are your major literary influences?
I've always learned a lot by reading Romain Gary. And when reading Marguerite Duras, you get the impression that not one word, not one sentence, is out of place. In American literature, I have always loved John Steinbeck.

Do you think that the potential for the kind of evil that killed Nola Kellergan lurks in every small town?
No, it's not a question of small town or big city. It's a question about people.

The novel has an incredibly cinematic feel. How would you feel about it being turned into a movie?
Excited, obviously, because the movie world is very exciting. But worried at the same time: books are better than movies. The imagination is free, time is unlimited, and characters take the face you lend them. Cinema is not free: the film's length is limited, you have to cut so it fits into two hours, and the characters' faces are set as the faces of the actors who play them.

Did you invent Harry's thirty-one rules for writing or were they handed down to you by someone else? And would you recommend these rules to real-life writers?
I made up those rules. I would not recommend them, in the sense that they are self-evident: for example, I say that the first chapter has to be attention-grabbing or else you lose your reader. That seems totally obvious! Regardless, these rules are related to creative writing theories, which don't exist in French literature.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on a new novel. I prefer not to talk about it, because that's my fun and my freedom, to be the only one to know for the moment. I think it's a pity to talk about the book you're in the middle of writing: you deprive yourself of a rare and precious moment of freedom.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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