Kapow! Take that, linear narratives!
Visual Editions has just released its fourth book, Kapow! by Adam Thirlwell. Dealing with the events of the Arab Spring, the novel plays with the notion of 'digression' and, as the book progresses, these textual asides make up more and more of the story. Designer Frith Kerr was asked to thread it all together...
Kapow! features in Neil Ayres' piece on the future of the book in the current issue of CR (you can read it here). In it Ayres looks at how mainstream and independent publishers are turning to other formats to present new titles. While paid-for apps don't necessarily offer quick salvation, the iPad, for one, has enabled publishers like Faber & Faber to really push how fiction can be presented.
In Visual Editions' case, the company works with a format like the iPad when it suits the project (see VE's iPad version of Marc Saporta's Composition No.1), not because its the latest thing. In fact, the experimentation going on in the printed pages of their first four books goes to show how radical a reading experience the printed book can still provide.
Interestingly, as Ayres reveals, designer Frith Kerr met with Adam Thirlwell early on in the process of making Kapow! to show him how text digressions could be treated within the printed page, and how these fragments might sit within the body of the story. Then Thirlwell went away and wrote the book.
"We had all sorts of crazy ideas, and what's made it into the final book is really exciting," says VE's Britt Iversen in Ayres' piece. "As the book progresses and gets increasingly more noisy ... the visual treatment of the digressions also gets crazier and crazier, acting very much as a reflection of the narrative."
The narrator of Kapow! is a London-based writer who is watching the Arab Spring unfold on television and via the internet. As other throughts and observations begin to footnote the story, it becomes apparent that perhaps these tangents are beginning to take over the tale (each digression is flagged by a symbol in the main body text).
It makes for a challenging read at times, but is much easier to digest than first appears, and the technique cleverly infers the state of the narrator's mind. It's experimental, sure, but it's highly readable, too.
Kapow! is available to pre-order online at visual-editions.com. Neil Ayres' piece, The Further Adventures of the Book, is in the May issue of Creative Review, out now. All photos in this post by David Sykes.
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what next... you open it up and Kapow! all the pages fall out onto the floor... if the contents good then the ridiculous layout merit might be there?