While reading through Robert Antoni’s glimpse into Trinidad & Tobago in the nineteenth century, As Flies to Whatless Boys, it’s easy to get lost in the text. The intricate storyline, the slow building Antillean cadence, and use of a written Caribbean vernacular were quite refreshing in a novel that with so much detail could trick a reader into believing this as a new little nugget of Trinidadian history. In fact, much like my colleague Naia, I made it a good way through the book before remembering the accompanying website. I had visited the site before reading the book, and without the context, this site made no sense, which does work against it in many ways. Even as a complementary source, it left much to be desired.
Don’t get me wrong, WhatlessBoys.com does provide some great insight into the machines of Eltzer’s making, Willy’s dreams and a glimpse at his notebook, but a part of me did wonder if this digital experiment helped at all. Now, I am all for the visuals of Eltzer’s machines, but I wonder if this may have worked better displayed within the actual novel as a picture, instead of forcing a reader online to look at it. I think it is important to have considered that the audience, at the time of reading this book, might not have internet access and therefore, would come to the site a little too late for it to serve it’s purpose. As for the video, Silence, which was lovely and beautifully made, it provided us a visual of our hero’s love interest, Marguerite, within the realm of Willy’s dreams; but seeing this late was a particularly good example of how it no longer served much of a purpose. In my book, there was simply a black page right after a chapter that was left in an unfinished sentence. At least I was able to catch Bruit Noir on time, but I found that this dream sequence did nothing for the story or me at all. The other links led to documents that were helpful but not entirely helpful at the time I got to them.
I wish the site contained more than just the 7 resources, and that’s if we include the last one which was just rolling credits with Mr. Talbot meowing/roaring adorably in an MGM like intro. I think the site would be more successful within digital versions of the novel where one can simply click the symbols and jump to these resources. But having picked up the hardcover, I am not aware if this is an option in the eBook or not. Furthermore, I dislike the bareness of the site and layout. Yes, It looks much like the book’s actual cover, but otherwise, it does nothing for itself or the novel it represents. I would hope the site would include more information than what’s currently there, like different pages, one with marketing materials/Where-to-buy, another with the author’s biography, and another being this page, that includes information on what the page is for, and which link coincides with which page/Chapter. In essence, a FULL site versus this very confusing numbered list. It truly has the potential to be be more dynamic and helpful as an overall complementary website.
So I want to praise Antoni’s experiment, as it does attempt to take a narrative outside of it’s physical confines in paper pack and into the digital realm; However, this experiment would do much better changing how it’s presented and updating the entire layout. It might also be helpful to make it very clear in the beginning of the novel (or at least on the dark-symbol pages in a corner or something) that there is an accompanying site instead of leaving this “appendix” to the end. To recap, I love the book, but I don’t love the site and that is a disconnect that needs to remedied (not for me, but for future readers)