Film-maker’s foray into fiction marks a digital breakthrough
Matthew Bourne moment
The quartet concludes in Cyprus with The Hit, in which a hit man has a Matthew Bourne moment of conscience that results in a series of actions that bring (only some of) the novel’s loose threads together. House enjoys frustrating expectations of a neat ending.
The Kills was written with the audio-visual enhancements in mind, and House created the extra material himself too. As is fitting for what is essentially a literary mystery, this material is fed to us like clues.
As the topography of various destinations is disseminated in stunningly scenic filmed sequences, we become Sutler adrift in Cuba or Istanbul; awed by the landscape, not sure what we are looking out for.
Elsewhere, characters’ inner monologues are revealed in recorded material, and answering-machine messages stutter to life. It adds a layer of suspense and emotional depth to the action, particularly in the first two books.
Standard Kindle editions offer the same content by using embedded hyperlinks that bring readers to The Kills’ dedicated website, but this distracts from rather than enhances the action. Essentially, you have to leave the fictional world in order to access it, thus defeating the nature of House’s extratextual creations.
But was all this enough to stop me browsing elsewhere? It was, though perhaps this was because I was being spoon-fed the novel in four parts, which were different enough to make me feel refreshed and yet similar enough to leave me wanting more. The third part, The Kill, came closest to threatening my patience with its postmodern pretensions.
If I had been reading the hardback version, I would likely have abandoned the novel at this point, with the knowledge when retrieving my bookmark that I was only just over halfway through, but the digital version somehow kept me gripped, and I was rewarded with the final instalment, The Hit, which creates a powerful finale from the fragmented material.
The Kills was not shortlisted for the Booker in the end, but its inclusion on the longlist marked an important symbolic stroke of legitimacy for digital-only and digital-first books.
Publishers frequently test new writers or more experimental material digitally before releasing it in more costly printed form, and the attention The Kills received assured the industry that a good book would not be overlooked by the literary establishment just because of its digital form.
Sara Keating is a cultural journalist who contributes regularly to The Irish Times.