There is no denying that Robert Antoni’s As Flies to Whatless Boys is an incredible tale that is rooted in the colonial history of Trinidad. Winner of the 2014 One Caribbean Media Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Antoni paints a vivid story of a lower class English family, the Tuckers; who, accompanied by others, emigrates to the island of Trinidad in an effort to escape the hardships of life in England. The story is painted against the backdrop of a descendant of the Tuckers who travels to Trinidad centuries after his ancestor’s arrival to investigate their experience and to put the pieces of his family’s emigration story together. Indeed a very descriptive and well crafted piece of creative work, As Flies to Whatless Boys is so convincingly good that it leaves its readers questioning its fictionality.
Unfortunately though, Antoni’s online project for his award winning novel does not quite live up to the standard of the printed work and leaves much more to be desired. Taking into consideration that it is a work in progress, the website www.whatlessboys.com is aesthetically aligned with the book. However, it lacks the dynamism that the book achieves through its content and the organization of its chapters, letters, emails, newspaper articles, diagrams and journal excerpts. To be specific, the website only consists of one main page with links that take you to either a video or some piece of historic evidence that is related to the story. It appears as though the objective of the online project is to have a space where some things mentioned in the book, that Antoni has physical evidence of, could live. Note that I am only making an assumption here because the objective is not clearly outlined on the website, and remissly so. That aside, I must admit that the website does work well as a home for digital versions of the documents mentioned in the story. It is a bonus for those who have read the novel as it serves as an aid to their imagination. Where it falls short is in it’s organization.
Antoni fails to provide some sort of guidance for navigating the site by not using the type of layout that would do so. Upon visiting www.whatlessboys.com, one is met with a list numbered from 1-7. Yes, it is quite likely that today’s internet user would hover over the contents of the list to find out whether they are embedded or not. I must admit, however, that I had a split second of confusion when I first visited the website. I was unsure of what to do. Yes I eventually figured it out but as a visitor, I should not have to figure things out. There are certain elements a book’s website should have to make it as equally or more appealing that the book itself. Website designer Kate McMillan, who specializes in designing websites for authors and books, suggests a few here. An overwhelming majority are missing from Antoni’s website.
Let’s narrow our focus a bit to the actual content on www.whatlessboys.com. In the list of 7 links, some are videos and some documents. As I had mentioned above, the website serves as a great platform for this. However, in order to appreciate all that is offered in the list, one would have had to read the novel. Antoni does not provide visitors with any contextual material to help those who have not read his book understand the components of the list. For example, there is a video entitled “Silence” which is based on the character Marguerite. As someone who has read the book, I gathered that the girl in the video represented Marguerite and the title spoke to the fact that Marguerite is mute. Outside of that, I did not quite understand the message being conveyed in the video. Having videos that connect to characters and events in the book is a brilliant idea but this idea in its current manifestation is a bit disappointing. I would even love to see a separate list for videos and another for documents with a short description for each attached.
All in all, the website has a lot of potential to rise to the same level as the book. Currently, it does an okay job of being a companion to the book. Hopefully, things move in the direction where the website becomes so well developed that it can stand on its own.