Fresh twist in the malevolence of Twin Peaks
Fiction: The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Mark Frost, Flatiron Books, hdbk, 368 pages, €25.99
Published 13/11/2016 | 02:30
Mark Frost's novel fills in some of the blanks ahead of a new series of the cult hit of the 1990s.
In the late 1980s, Mark Frost co-created, for my money, the greatest television show ever made. If you're a fellow Twin Peaks obsessive, you'll know that the other person responsible was David Lynch - and you'll absolutely agree on that superlative.
Millions of words have been written about their drama, which aired from 1990-91; it has inspired countless other TV shows, films, music, books, you name it. Twin Peaks, for us devotees, is less a mere filmed entertainment than a state of mind and an entire universe.
Now Frost expands on that universe with The Secret History of Twin Peaks, a lavishly produced novel (of sorts) that colours in some of the background to that seminal programme - and whets viewer appetites for its very belated return next year. (As if they needed whetting, though. We're practically chewing the carpet in anticipation.)
True to Frost and Lynch's determinedly skewed sensibility, the book doesn't take the form of a traditional novel. There's no straightforward narrative, relayed by a straightforward narrator. We'd probably be disappointed if there was.
Rather, The Secret History of Twin Peaks begins with Gordon Cole - an FBI chief we met periodically during the TV series - passing on a mysterious dossier, discovered in summer 2016, to an unnamed agent. She is to try and divine the identity of the self-titled Archivist, who assembled it early in 1991 (when Twin Peaks came to its open-ended conclusion on telly).
The dossier comprises a wide variety of document mock-ups (this book's design is pretty sumptuous): memoranda, interview transcripts, newspaper reports, magazine articles, other books, personal correspondence, diaries, a funeral pamphlet, even the menu of the show's famous Double-R Diner.
It begins with what is, I suppose, ancient history in American terms: the famous mapping voyage of Lewis and Clark through the then-uncharted West. Long before Twin Peaks existed as a town, there was something profoundly, eerily strange about the area.
The local Nez Perce natives believed so, centuries before Europeans arrived, and as The Archivist's research shows, so did many others. In this 200-year potted history, we encounter possible alien abductions, rumours of witchcraft and demonology, prosaic murders and surreal ones, political skulduggery, the Masons and Illuminati, escaped Nazis, Pacific Rim gangsters, hallucinations, madness, mania and more…culminating in the death of Laura Palmer and ending, chronologically, precisely when the show ended.
Frost cleverly, often humorously, mixes real-life events and people into this fictional fantasia: everything and everyone from Roswell, the Indian Wars and pulp magazine Amazing Stories, to L Ron Hubbard, Jackie Gleason and even Richard Nixon (he comes out of it surprisingly well, actually).
It's hard to say too much more without revealing the story's twists and turns. In fact, it's hard to review the book at all unless the people you're writing it for were/are Twin Peaks fans.
I've just realised that most of this will make no sense to anyone who missed the show first time out; that can be applied to the novel, too. If you were at least aware of Twin Peaks back then, you'll be able to follow it; if you loved the programme, you'll probably like or love this book. I especially enjoyed revisiting old characters, some more fondly remembered than others. Frost makes a wise choice, I think, in mostly avoiding a rehash of the central players: Laura, Cooper, Donna, Leyland, Windom Earle, etc.
Instead we get a deeper insight into relatively tangential people like Major Briggs, Big Ed, Norma, the Log Lady, Hawk - he delivers the book's funniest section, by far - Catherine Martell, Josie, and, especially, Doug Milford. I barely remembered this guy from the TV show, but here he's pivotal. Even Hank Jennings, one of the baddest bastards in a town overrun with them, is sort-of redeemed as a fully rounded human being.
The book has one significant failing…that, perhaps annoyingly, I can't really detail without giving too much away.
Let me put it like this: the source of Twin Peak's spooky malevolence seems to have shifted, from what I took to be purely supernatural - ie BOB and his ilk - to something still-fantastical but scientifically (just about) possible.
It feels to me as though something is lost in that change. Twin Peaks is still a freaky-deaky place, but this new angle makes it seem slightly - slightly - less unnerving, less dreamlike (or nightmarish), less uncanny, less incomprehensible…in short, less mysterious. And as The Archivist declares in the beginning, "Mystery creates wonder."
Darragh McManus' novels include Shiver the Whole Night Through and The Polka Dot Girl