Joël Dicker, the amazing deeds of a best seller grinder

“The Alaska Sanders Case” has taken all the hits. But criticism is divided on the writing and marketing skills of its (phenomenal) author …

Francesco Specchia

Joël Dicker he is not just any writer, he is the secular miracle of world publishing. With that allure of a Martian fallen to Earth as in a song by David Bowiewith that handsome actor air Roger Pattison stumbled upon a web of crimes and words as clear as clouds, this 37-year-old from Geneva is still at the top of the Italian rankings. I wonder why.

His new work The Alaska Sanders case (The ship of Theseuspp 644, euro 20.90)

has hoisted overwhelmingly on top of the hot summer readings, drawing inspiration – I don’t know how consciously – from the classic of women who disappeared in the water, The Mystery of Marie Roget- from EA Poe; and ends up dealing with the cold case of a girl found in a lake in New Hampshire, passing through anonymous letters and false leads, amidst stylish atmospheres Virgin shoresr series Netflix emblem of all the anonymous citadels of the disturbing American province. In the middle of the narrative the union between the writer Marcus Goldman is dusted off, who has just achieved enormous success with The truth about the Harry Quebert case and Sergeant Perry Gahalowood. Poor Alaska Sanders is therefore a sequel to Harry Quebert, one of the luckiest novels in literature, a million-selling stuff.

Now, there has probably not been such a thundering success since the days of Stoner from John Williams discovered by Fazi Publisher; only that there emerged an astonishing quality of literary writing in telling the flat life of a useless man, in making a story of human resistance one of the greatest US novels of the century. Here, however, it is very different. The book, even though well written, does not go into the depths of its characters; let the pivotal character of Marcus, Dicker’s alter ego, crouch on the embankment of the narrative river and let the plot flow, without jolts, on the policeman’s investigation. In reality, beyond any attempt to review, the Alaska case is the Dicker case. It is the phenomenology of a Genevan author unknown even in Switzerland who suddenly wins the Grand Prix of the French Academy and the Goncourt writing – in French – about American thriller atmospheres that have nothing of the thriller.

To colleague Giuseppe Fantasia Dicker, who points it out to him, explains with a sketchy smile: «I believe that murder is not interesting as an act in itself, but for all its consequences. It has a strong impact on people and what interests us is to understand that impact and get into that game between victims and perpetrators. The interesting thing is not the action itself, whether one kills someone else or disappears, but why it happens and the influence that those facts can have on people’s lives ”. By now we know everything about Dicker. Who is a boy of few words shining in a privileged relationship with his old publisher who made him debut without infamy or praise with The last days of our fathers in 2009. He prefers the United States because writing about his Geneva is much less fun. He is also a small (but high-quality) publisher every now and then. That he did not take part in the script of the fiction taken from his first film because the director was Jean Jaqcques Annaud and if Umberto Eco hasn’t bothered him, imagine him. Who has “magnetic eyes” as his interviewers point out, but who would be ashamed to be an actor. Good.

The character is painted in soft and, at the same time, flaming colors. There is no one who talks badly about it. But, qualitatively, is Dicker really worth his fame and his print runs? Many colleagues accustomed to literary criticism like Maurizio Zottarelli they think Joel is a fool. His books would be unnecessarily inflated by repeated situations through police reports; the clues listed on its pages to solve the cases are useless (violating every rule of the crime writer-reader relationship, even if he is not a crime writer); in the text Liala would abound with trivialities such as: «do you know what is the only way to measure how much you love a person? No. Losing it »; it would get messed up in the timelines between 1975 and 2008. Zottarelli speaks of an author of “a diabolical cunning”.

And, re-reading the criticisms of the New Yorker at the release of Harry Quebert in 2013, the thesis is not strange. The New Yorker found it “aimed at people with temporarily disabled critical faculties who try to forget who or where they are.” The Washington Post he defined it as “a serious cowardice”, speaking of its characteristic as an “intellectual thriller”, an expression whose meaning is unknown.

In Italy only a few blogs like The pleasure of reading bthey speak of «800 pages of bluffs where every detail is so exasperated that it often leads to parody» and «what matters is not always the style but the morbidity of the story». Leopoldo Gargano speaks of “tyranny of bullshit”. On the other hand, there is the immense success perhaps pumped by marketing. And smooth, clear writing that keeps the reader’s attention inviting him to move on, promising him incredible twists before the end. Flashes that then do not arrive. But they still leave satisfied the desire for entertainment, not literature. Of course, they also said so Stephen King or Wilbur Smith. Of his vocation as a writer Dicker himself affirms: «There is nothing that prepares you in such a way as to be able to make you say ‘Here: I am an author’. At the beginning of my career I questioned myself deeply and although my books have been great successes, mine is a reflection that continues ». And if it continues for him, imagine for us …

Joël Dicker, the amazing deeds of a best seller grinder