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Joël Dicker: “When I was an impostor”

This article is published in issue 20 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until May 17, 2022

Remember where you were ten years ago? Joël Dicker he could not forget it even if he wanted to. He was a recent graduate in Law who since childhood had shown a fondness for writing; after a series of attempts that fell into oblivion, in 2012, at 27 years oldhis life was about to change forever: Bernard de Falloisone of the great old men of French publishing, had read the manuscript of one of his thrillers and liked it.
De Fallois, former discoverer of Proust’s unpublished works, was one who saw a long way: within a few years The truth about the Harry Quebert case sold 12 million copies in 40 countries and became a TV series with Patrick Dempseysecuring a place among the central works of our age.
May 23 Joël Dicker returns to Italian bookstores with The Alaska Sanders casethe last part of the trilogy that began with Harry Quebert and continued with The Baltimore Book (2016). There will be the same protagonist, and that is the wonder boy of writing Marcus Goldmana murder case in a small town in the United States overlooking the Atlantic and many well-orchestrated twists: all that has earned the author millions of readers at every latitude.

Ten years have passed since the publication of The truth about the Harry Quebert case, and it has been a dense decade, both for her and for the planet. What is your memory of that period?
«Having seen success coming from afar: the first calls to my publisher, the first ‘ask for an interview’ … a state of excitement never experienced before or since».

The Alaska Sanders case confirms the old adage “you don’t change a winning team”. What is it different from what it has accustomed us to?
“The genesis dates back to when I finished Harry Quebert and I knew I wanted to make it a trilogy, but I was afraid they would accuse me of riding the wave, and I tried to avoid it. I wrote The Baltimore Book, where the team is almost the same, albeit with a different story, but in the meantime I said to myself: I want to do the sequel to Harry Quebert. So the real novelty was the creation of the second work of a trilogy that can be read in any order ».

The Alaska Sanders case it is also the first title published by his new publishing house. How does it feel on the other side of the literary world?
“In fact, founding Rosie & Wolfe allowed me to do what I already did: Bernard de Fallois’ publishing house was small and there were many aspects where I could help. As a lawyer I was in charge of contracts, I helped with the design of the covers, I was engaged in negotiations for rights abroad. When de Fallois passed away, in 2018, and I realized that his publishing house would no longer exist, I didn’t want to find another one: I would have felt like a traitor. So, I simply said to myself: I know this profession, I can open my own publisher, it will be a tribute to Bernard ».

Speaking of him, defined by Le Figaro «Le monstre sacré, the sacred monster of French publishing», what was the most important teaching?
“There are many, one above all: to address a few wise people before making the most important decisions”.

He has written an essay on what it means to be a writer, in which he says that for a long time he did not consider himself as such, and even after Harry Quebert thought of himself as an “imposter.” Then what has changed?
“These things proceed step by step, like all things in life. If now I consider myself a writer it is because my relationship with myself has changed, I have grown up ».

Marcus Goldman’s character is an acclaimed novelist, yet he finds himself perpetually alone: ​​is this a side effect of success?
«I think it is more a dimension inherent to the role of an author or an artist: you are in your world, you write for hours every day, and while filling your days with stories you realize that you have been through them alone. For 17 years, too, I have led a life as a recluse, comparing myself only with the few people I collaborate with. It is a loneliness that other professions do not know: Marcus Goldman is only because he is a writer, not because he has been successful ».

We live in an era in which the banning of books seems to be back in fashion, especially in America, where out of the blue certain works are considered “problematic”. What’s going on?
“I am very worried. In Tennessee, Maus by Art Spiegelman was banned from schools for crazy reasons: it is the only graphic novel to be awarded with the Pulitzer and is the story of a son who tells of his father born in Poland and deported to Auschwitz. There are terrible scenes with naked women and children being led to the gas chambers, and someone thought to object: “Hey, this is too much! There is nudity and violence! ”. That’s when you ask yourself: what have we become? I think it all starts with the fact that people don’t read enough. You are always in front of a screen, on social media, and you forget to read the story. Plus, you don’t really meet: when people meet they share their past, their culture, they ask questions. We should introduce some sort of discipline: it makes no sense to measure the carbohydrates we eat, if in the meantime we don’t care what ends up in our brains. “

He doesn’t seem like a fan of social media.
«They are not, but they are not even against: they can be powerful tools, but it depends on how we use them. YouTube is a great invention: you can watch documentaries on nature or go to the NASA channel; or you can spend your days watching videos of cats being microwaved, or what do I know. The same goes for other social networks: if Instagram becomes your only source of information, it’s wrong “.

At 37 he has already achieved everything an author could remotely want: how does he find the motivation to do better every time?
“I wrote many books before Harry Quebert, and they were regularly rejected by publishers. At the time it was easy, I didn’t have to ask myself the question: “Do I really want it?”: It was obvious, I kept doing it, even if no one published me. Even today, before starting a novel, I don’t ask myself what the plot will be or what characters it will have: I wonder if I really want to write it. Fortunately, if we are here now talking about my latest work, the answer is always yes. Dreaming, then, has no limits. As Oscar Wilde used to say, it is important to have dreams big enough not to lose them
seen while chasing each other ».

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Source: Vanity Fair

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