Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Secret History of Twin Peaks, by Mark Frost

Disclaimer: I’m such a Twin Peaks superfan that I got two copies of this book for Christmas. I had managed to steer clear of any precursory flick-throughs in Waterstones and went in blind, so to speak, not really knowing what this book was, or how it was structured.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks is, as far as I’m concerned, the most thorough and engrossing book ever to be based on a television series. It’s not a book about a TV show, it’s essentially series 2.5 but in another format. A format that compliments the original beautifully. Some bookshops have put it under non-fiction, as “Making of” books usually are, for all the behind the scenes trivia and technical HOW DID THEY DO IT stuff, but this is brilliant, intricate fiction. It’s a document from the universe of Twin Peaks that introduces the reader to those tantilising depths that we all knew were lying dormant under the series that we saw on TV. I was 2 when the original series of Twin Peaks aired, and from what I can gather, it was one of those shows that got shifted about in the UK schedule, airing like 9 months after its US premier and it’s barely been repeated since. It got some casual viewers, it spawned some lifetime obsessives. I only watched it last year, quickly declaring it the official best TV show I’d ever seen.

This is the first book in ages that has made me genuinely excited to get home from work and continue with. I thought about it all day, craving the mysteries and the conspiracy. I don’t know if that’s due entirely to the depth and enigma of the book, or the wonderful world of Twin Peaks that I wanted so badly to get re-immersed in.

The book itself takes the format of an in-universe dossier, found at the scene of a crime in an apparently custom made metal box, triple locked. The document is large; custom bound and made up of pasted-in journal entries, newspaper clippings, photos, official reports and, threading this ephemera together, typewritten commentaries and explanations. Some of these documents seem to be 200 year old originals. The inimitable Gordon Cole, now deputy director of the FBI has assigned redacted agent TP to read said dossier, verifying its claims, making footnotes and summarising its content for their superiors. Identifying the compiler of the document, the author of the commentary, the character self-described as ‘The Archivist’ is priority number one.

I don’t want to give too much away about the mysteries and secrets within the dossier (because, as it points out, mysteries and secrets are very different things). Its contents range from previously unseen (and presumed original) pages from the diaries of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition, eyewitness reports, redacted FBI documents, official Air Force reports, personal letters written in the hands of the show’s characters, newspaper clippings, court documents, journals ect…the voice and curation of The Archivist holds the whole thing together, drawing our attention from one event to the next; from the secret societies to the ancient Native American magic, the aliens and the spirit realm, to the murders and mysteries that remain to the present. The narrative meanders from Westward Expansion era USA to Roswell and delivers cameos from President Nixon and L. Ron Hubbard, among others.

The whole thing is so solid and satisfying, like pre-series-six X Files. It’s dense and intricate, full of lore and mythology, conspiracy, government cover-ups, the occult, small-town weirdness and historical speculation. It’s an incredible whirlwind of information that is an absolute joy to work through. Almost everything in this book has been documented, truthfully or not so, in real life. Which is insane, when you think about it.

We catch up with a few of Twin Peaks’ surviving characters, a bit of a jarring tonal contrast in places, but I suppose essential inclusions. There are a couple of discrepancies between events as the books depicts them (mostly character backstory) and how they were shown in the show, but as you read, you get the sense that this is a chance for Mark Frost to do a bit of retconning and a bit of reshaping the mire-filled mess that s2 descended into. Maybe this was how it was always meant to be- there are no networks to interfere in books. Obviously not *all* questions are answered, but the reader is in no way dissatisfied.

I loved that the book delves into the lives and backstory of some of the show’s more peripheral characters; it seems that the events we witness in the Twin Peaks of 1990 are directly or indirectly dependent on things that happened in the same spot before a single log was felled. I loved that we got to see the origins of one of the show’s most enduring enigmas; the Log Lady. I loved that the town’s *ancient* Mayor Mitford is given time and space for his backstory, revealing himself to be perhaps one of the most influential and secretive hands to ever guide Twin Peaks’ narrative. Underutilized character Deputy Hawk also takes the opportunity to tell the story of Big Ed and Norma and Nadine, which is the single most hilarious segment in the whole thing.

I’m not sure that it would make a massive amount of sense to the uninitiated- I can’t imagine why the non-viewer would want to read it- but it’s an absolute treasure trove to the fans. I absolutely loved it and cannot recommend it enough.

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