Boys — ir­ri­tat­ingly — will al­ways be boys

The Bal­ti­more Boys

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Joël Dicker (Trans: Ali­son Anderson)

MacLe­hose Press, £20 Re­viewed by Jenni Frazer

WE ALL re­mem­ber, I ex­pect, days in our child­hood or ado­les­cence when it seemed as though noth­ing would ever hap­pen, that the world would never move on and al­low us to… do stuff.

That sense of tor­por per­me­ates ev­ery one of the 448 pages of Joël Dicker’s new­est novel, The Bal­ti­more Boys.

Dicker, a Swiss-born Jew, has been taken to global lit­er­ary hearts after the world­wide suc­cess of his book, The Truth about the Harry Que­bert Af­fair, writ­ten in French in 2012.

At that year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, editors fairly fell over them­selves to

Joel Dicker: writ­ing in the spirit of meta-fic­tion buy the book, which was sub­se­quently trans­lated into 32 lan­guages and gar­landed with lit­er­ary prizes. In­evitably, there was a back­lash, with al­le­ga­tions of pla­gia­rism, which Dicker ap­pears to have weath­ered. The truly weird thing about the Harry Que­bert book is how the thor­oughly Euro­pean Dicker man­ages to per­suade the reader that he is Amer­i­can through and through: the book is set in New Hamp­shire and — even al­low­ing for the pos­si­bil­ity of a clunky trans­la­tion — it’s not hard to pic­ture Dicker as a na­tive son. His pro­tag­o­nist, Mar­cus Gold­man — who, for all I know, is an al­ter ego — is a nov­el­ist whose first book was a smash hit. He hits ma­jor writer’s block and goes to visit his old col­lege pro­fes­sor, Harry Que­bert, to try to get his cre­ative juices go­ing. (Harry, in­ci­den­tally, reeks of a kind of er­satz Saul Bel­low, but that’s by the way).

Any­how, in The Bal­ti­more Boys, Mar­cus Gold­man is again front and cen­tre. This book is both a pre­quel and se­quel and, yet again, in the spirit of meta-fic­tion, we get ref­er­ences to his hav­ing writ­ten a hugely suc­cess­ful novel, and first en­counter him when he is yet again try­ing for in­spi­ra­tion while work­ing/ re­lax­ing in Florida.

A chance meet­ing with an old girl­friend (there are a lot of chance meet­ings in this book) de­cides Mar­cus on re-trac­ing his school­days, and the idyl­lic time spent with his cousins in “the Gold­man Gang”. Let me put it this way: I did not need to know ev­ery tiny lit­tle de­tail of Mar­cus Gold­man’s/ Joël Dicker’s teenage years in or­der to fig­ure out that SOME­THING BAD was prob­a­bly go­ing to hap­pen.

And in­deed it does, and not a mo­ment too soon be­cause, frankly, if Dicker hadn’t de­cided to do some­thing to his char­ac­ters, I might have been obliged to strike at them my­self.

Be­sides the honk­ing im­prob­a­bil­i­ties of the plot there is the real pe­cu­liar­ity that, hav­ing de­cided to call his hero Mar­cus Gold­man and loaded him with an Uncle Saul, we never learn any­thing about the char­ac­ters be­ing Jewish.

It is pos­si­ble that this is one of those nov­els which di­vides the gen­ders, loved by men and not by women. If you are look­ing for a block­buster, per­haps this is your an­swer. I can’t say I warmed to it.

Jenni Frazer is a free­lance journalist. ‘The Bal­ti­more Boys’ will be pub­lished in the UK next month


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