So there’s this book. It’s about a scary filmmaker and his scary films. This premise is not without promise. But what earned it a spot on Gawker is its accompanying smartphone app that offers up additional material when you scan certain pages. Furthermore, the book itself incorporates images throughout.
The book, Night Film by Marisha Pessl, was brought to my attention via Reddit, where horror writer Grady Hendrix dismissively introduced it as being “… full of cheap gimmicks because ‘just’ being a book isn’t enough anymore, apparently.”
The problem seems to be twofold:
1. The extras are poorly executed (bad acting seems to be a factor).
2. Books are sacrosanct texts unsullied by graphic components. Unless you’re a child, in which case images are presumably okay. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, you’re on notice.
The first time I saw film bleeding into a horror novel in a way that detracted significantly from the text was Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box. It’s one thing to shudder at a flickering ghost moving toward you in jump cuts when you’re watching a Japanese horror film, where the trope began. It’s quite another to read it. It’s a film technique, not a literary one, and bringing the one to the other is frequently ineffective. I’m reminded also of Zombie Island by David Wellington which contains description of shining a flashlight over a room and jerking back to catch something that moved just out of sight. These are visual tropes, not literary ones, and in both these cases I’d say the trespass of known film scares into text results in an awkward un-scare.
Why shouldn’t a book offer more than letters on a page? Great contemporary authors have played with books’ physicality in a way that ensures readers are hyperaware of the division between story and object. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer. A Humument by Tom Phillips. Peshl herself says over at Omnivoracious that “I write with a 360-degree experience, full of music, visuals, ripped-out articles and images.”
Also huge these days are book trailers. When major releases are presaged by YouTube videos, can Night Film truly be blamed for offering relevant film scraps throughout the book?
I come not to praise or bury Night Film. I haven’t read it. But whether this is a sign of the publishing apocalypse, a vibrant strike for books as experiences beyond the page, or merely a marketing trick, I’m ready to welcome successful multimedia novels.