Browse Tag by transmedia
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Review: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

lizzie-bennet-diaries-book-coverIf you haven’t watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, do that before reading this review (I’ll wait). Produced by Hank Green and Bernie Su, the webseries is a compelling modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice told through videoblogs. As a broke, unemployed 24-year-old grad student, Lizzie is relatable, flawed, and funny, and the series focuses on more than just the relationship statuses of the Bennet sisters. I was – and continue to be – a huge fan of the show, participating in the fandom, writing a grad paper and contributing to the show’s wildly successful Kickstarter (my DVDs just arrived in the mail!) One of my favourite aspects of the series is its transmedia element: during the run of the show, active social media accounts for each character allowed the story to unfold over multiple platforms, and allowed direct interaction between the viewers and the characters; LBD’s transmedia storytelling even won the show an Emmy. The last transmedia frontier was a book, which publishes on June 24. A novel based on a webseries based on a novel? As much as I love the videos, I was hesitant at first – how much new material could the book really give? The answer: not as much as I was hoping, but I still enjoyed reimmersing myself back in Lizzie’s life, and I think other fans will too.

The novel is set up as Lizzie’s pen-and-paper diary, sectioned into days that follow the arc of the videos closely. At the end of some chapters, the corresponding videos are linked (in my ebook version, anyway) for those who want to track the diary against the original videos. I liked this touch, since it reinforced the transmedia roots of the series. However, sometimes I felt that these links didn’t allow the book to breathe on its own, since it allowed for no distance between adaptations at all. More than once I was surprised to see that there weren’t diary entries between some videos at all – surely Lizzie would have something to say about events significant enough to record in her videos?

My main complaint is, that for a novel that positions itself as Lizzie’s “means to express [her] most private feelings,” it doesn’t actually explore Lizzie’s inner emotions more than visible on video. Yes, deflection and avoidance are prime Lizzie Traits, but I felt like the book favoured rehashing canon events rather than exploring what Lizzie is actually feeling in any depth. For example, something that bothered me is that, while the majority of the novel is split into first-person diary entries, the chapters corresponding to episode 60 and episode 98 – the two Darcy “proposals” and huge moments in the original series – are verbatim transcripts of the videos. I understand that when you have these two very popular canon scenes, it is a lot of possibly redundant work to recap these events in a new way or perspective, but I didn’t appreciate the break from Lizzie’s internal monologue to have these transcripts slotted in, especially when the next diary entries are days after these events; I felt cheated of Lizzie’s internal struggle and immediate feelings.

Another irritation I had was that characters, especially Lizzie, didn’t feel developed any more than we’ve already seen them on video. I understand that a lot Lizzie’s characterization work has been done already and entirely new traits and hobbies would be obvious retcon, but to me, it felt kind of lazy. I actually found Lizzie to be flatter than in the videos; I suspect this is because I didn’t feel that the novel was told in Ashley Clements’ voice (which is funny, since Bernie Su and Kate Rorick were both writers on the series). Lizzie likes: books, school, and presumably watching Youtube, although this is mentioned so in passing in her diary that it’s laughable (“I’m a fan of the Vlogbrothers and other videos of this style, so it [videos] can’t be too hard to produce, right?”). Along these same lines, the novel would have been a great opportunity to expand on places and events outside of Lizzie’s bedroom that the viewer never gets to see because of the inherent limitations of the vlog. However, this is another opportunity wasted: it turns out what Lizzie does when not making videos or participating in awkward Darcy run-ins or sister drama is go to the library, a lot. The amount Lizzie visits the library approaches Hermione-like proportions: she seems to spend almost every waking non-video moment there over the summer. It feels like they needed to make her do something, and settled on this; whatever the reason is, it gets kind of boring. Similarly, there are few descriptions of unseen locations (a notable exception is Lizzie’s house-sitting gig in San Francisco, which seems too good be to true). An actual line: “Netherfield is gorgeous; I’m sure I don’t have to elaborate.” Actually, this would have been a great place to elaborate, since all the viewers saw of it was one purple bedroom!

The novel dispelled many of my personal headcanons, but that is to be expected, and there were some nice surprises: we learn where Lizzie got her idea to start vlogging and where her camera comes from, more about her home life and time spent jobshadowing, and exactly when her feelings for Darcy start. There are couple juicy nonvideo plotlines and information, such as new insights into Jane and Bing’s relationship, Darcy’s letter, and seeing Lizzie’s parents in more depth. Other details – such as Caroline’s job, what was happening with Bing’s med school, and why Lizzie didn’t watch Lydia’s videos – are also given, but felt more filling in obvious plotholes, but I appreciate that the authors addressed it, all the same. If you are looking for final authority as to what Jane’s indescretion was, prepare to be disappointed.

Despite my complaints, the book really is enjoyable. There are many running jokes and fandom references (Seahorse count: 1), and I sincerely hope that the line “My phone lit up like a Christmas tree” is a TFIOS allusion.

Agreed, tumblr user makeyourdeduction, agreed.

 

There is a lot more Darcy, since, without Lizzie being limited by the camera, we can live her accounts of the Most Awkward Dance Ever, every uncomfortable Netherfield moment, and the San Francisco tour first-hand – all entertaining, all primed to show how skewed Lizzie’s perspective is. I think my favourite part of this book was the fact that two new bonus LBD videos were produced to promote it; whatever that might say about the quality of the book itself, it was worth it for that new content alone. Overall, it was a delights to spend more time with Lizzie Bennet and I hope this isn’t the last we see of her.

reviews

Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House) is an uncanny psychological thriller that delves into the secretive world of underground filmmaker Stanislas Cordova to explore the relationship between the constructs of truth and fantasy.Pessl_Night-Film

Night Film follows discredited investigative journalist Scott McGrath as he attempts to discover why Ashely Cordova, the daughter of super genius, super reclusive, and super disturbing filmmaker Stanislas Cordova, has killed herself after mysteriously appearing to him. Aided by Nora and Hopper, two teenagers who also had contact with Ashley before her death, McGrath wades through an ever-twisting series of leads involving witchcraft, an escape from a mental asylum, Satanic rituals, matching tattoos, disappearing witnesses, a false priest, and rumours of child mistreatment. All clues seem to point back to the mysterious Cordova, who seems to be loosely based on Stanley Kubrick, and who haunts the novel through his absence, frequently slipping out of McGrath’s reach just as he nears the truth. Perhaps the most uncanny sequence in the novel when McGrath and crew infiltrate Cordova’s estate and seem to enter one of Cordova’s films. The consistently eerie scenarios (such as the disappearance of all interview subjects and evidence files overnight, or the mysterious black figurine that McGrath finds planted on all children connected with Ashley, including his own young daughter) and characters (the cryptic Cordova, the son with three missing fingers) keep the novel engaging and delightfully tense.

Example of Night Film's media
Example of Night Film’s media

One innovative aspect of Night Film is its media: mockup pages of online articles, websites, police reports, scraps of paper and photographs augment the text in a way that reminded me of Lemony Snicket’s Unauthorized Autobiography. Initially I was disappointed that the URLs on the webpage mockups didn’t lead anywhere when I typed them into my browser; perhaps, I thought, my transmedia expectations were too high after The Lizzie Bennet Diaries or Sherlock’s The Science of Deduction and John Watson blogs. However, I was happily surprised when I reached the end and discovered that there was a decoder app I could download to scan the bird symbols I’d noticed in some of the images (pleasingly, the app works on the ebook version too!). This revealed an extensive amount of extra content, more than I had been expecting: case reports from Ashley’s time at Briarwood, transcripts from court proceedings, recordings of Ashley’s music, even a syllabus for Beckman’s class on Cordova. Pessl’s YouTube channel also has “found footage” from Cordova’s films. I wish I had discovered this content before I finished the book, as it would have added even more depth to Scott McGrath’s investigation. As it is, all credit to Pessl and Random House for undertaking this transmedia project.

I had conflicted feelings about Pessl’s previous book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics: I really liked the first two-thirds, but hated the ending. So I approached Night Film with caution, afraid of getting burned again. But no fear! Night Film delivered a strong, strange story that kept me eagerly reading from start to finish.