As a fan of the original series, I’m pretty excited about Twin Peaks’ return to TV next year. As such, I was also eager to get my hands on the new novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, as an opportunity to immerse myself back in that world, and the characters and mysteries which are at its core.
Secret History is written by Mark Frost – an award winning author and co-creator of Twin Peaks. His book tells the stories of various characters, their lives and the strange happenings connected with the town stretching from early exploration and settlement of Twin Peaks through the decades to the events covered in the original series. Not to ruin anything, there is discussion of owls, giants, UFOs and alien abductions, murders, The Illuminati, President Nixon, L. Ron Hubbard, and undercover FBI investigations.
The novel is presented as a dossier of various documents (newspaper clippings, journal entries, reports, and classified FBI files) that have been collected by someone referred to as the ‘archivist’. The dossier has now found its way into the hands of the FBI, so there are also annotated side bars on most pages adding extra details and their observations.
Much like the latter episodes of Twin Peaks (post-reveal of Laura Palmer’s killer) Secret History goes off on significant tangents providing back-story and detail regarding secondary characters. Thankfully, there are little morsels of information involving key characters that delight and intrigue – but these are short and fleeting. One such moment is a report by Dr Jacoby reflecting on Laura’s death which is both beautifully written and also offers a level of depth and redemption for this character who in many ways was a comic device on the show. He writes:
“The truth is Laura’s death has broken me. My own belief systems – the fantasy that I could hold these two worlds in balance – inner life, outer reality – and bring the truth of one closer to the other, like some free-thinking hippie Prometheus, is shattered. What a hapless fool I’ve been.”
Similarly, a later passage — a conversation documented by the archivist — goes a long way, in my view, to tackling both the challenges of this book and also some of the failings of the TV series, by trading in mystery, mysteries that we feel we want answers to, only to find the journey way more enjoyable than the discovery of the answer. I might be wrong, but I read the following as an apology for revealing the identity of Laura’s Killer – something David Lynch and Mark Frost said they never wanted to do (but the TV network made them do) and something the show never fully recovered from:
“A secret’s only a secret as long as you keep it. Once you tell someone it loses all its power – for good or ill – like that, its just another piece of information. But a real mystery can’t be solved, not completely. It’s always just out of reach, like a light around the corner; you might catch a glimpse of what it reveals, feel its warmth, but you can’t know the heart of it, not really. That’s what gives it value: it can’t be cracked, it’s bigger than you and me, bigger than everything we know.”
One thing to note about The Secret History of Twin Peaks, is that it looks beautiful inside and out. It has great embossed cover art with a nice half-length wrap-around strip, plus many cool pictures and facsimiles of documents and newspaper clippings that look ‘authentic’. As a beautifully rendered physical artifact of Twin Peaks, this book deserves a place in any fans collection.
Despite its physical beauty and the fleeting moments of delight and intrigue, I didn’t find this book a particularly satisfying read. Often I found it a chore and far from the compelling page-turner I hoped it would be. While the idea of making your way through a dense annotated collection of documents seems exciting at first, it quickly becomes laborious and gets in the way of the stories being told. My eyes would dart from a newspaper clipping to passages from the ‘archivist’ to further sidebar annotations by the FBI researcher. As the stories were told via multiple sources and items, I found it difficult to stay with the thread of the narrative and get a foothold on the various characters, especially in the first 140 pages.
Much like other publications that have accompanied Twin Peaks — The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (a best-seller!) and also the cassette FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, My Life My Tapes – The Secret History presents itself as an artifact rather than a particularly coherent or compelling story. These tie-ins give you snippets of info surrounding the characters, stories and mysteries of Twin Peaks, while in no way shedding any real light on or ruining the experience of the TV show. While I am incredibly thankful for this, as no-one wants the TV show ruined, I doubt anyone would say that Laura’s Diary, Dales Tapes or now Mark Frost’s Secret History added anything of genuine substance to the rich storytelling of Twin Peaks but are exercises in marketing rather than satisfying experiences in themselves.
The main game here is Twin Peaks’ return to TV and Mark Frost’s book makes sure not to get in the way of that. Interestingly, The Secret History of Twin Peaks is being released on a 10CD edition voiced by several of the key cast from the original and new series. This may be the best way to experience this book and would potentially overcome the challenges I had connecting with the stories and characters via the fragmented way the story was told in written form.
This is definitely one for the fans, and is worth the purchase if for no other reason than being beautiful physical evidence that the creative minds behind Twin Peaks are back at it again, and the characters, stories and mysteries will be back on-screen in 2017.