Art and design

Books

Culture

Environment

Fashion

Film

Life and style

Money

Music

Politics

Science

Technology

Travel

Television

US news

World news

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer: Twin Peaks' problematic tie-in

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer.
Dark back story … Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer. Photograph: Frost/Spelling/Rex/Shutterstock

Twin Peaks graced us with many a lingering image, though none more grim and resounding than Laura Palmer’s wan and traumatised body, half unpacked from the clear plastic wrap she was dumped in, in David Lynch’s landmark TV series. While the blue-eyed homecoming queen’s dark past and subsequent murder made for the show’s central mystery, she remained mostly voiceless. Lynch renders her a silent totem, rotting beneath the cheerful surface of small-town America.

As is mostly the case in crime dramas, Twin Peaks is more concerned with the identity of the murderer, not the dead girl left behind. So there is something radical about the Twin Peaks tie-in novel The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. Published in 1990 and written by Lynch’s daughter Jennifer when she was only 22, the novel depicts Palmer’s transition from girlhood into adolescence and offers graphic accounts of her sexual abuse by Killer BOB and her father. The book is a harrowing reminder that beneath the kitschy aesthetic, the loopy surrealism and the damn fine coffee, Twin Peaks was a show about child abuse.

Forever a little late to the party, I didn’t get into Twin Peaks until the early 2000s. I read The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer shortly after finishing the show. My copy was a gift from a friend, found in a charity shop. I can’t remember whether it was actually tattered or whether that was the intentional aesthetic of the design. What I do remember is lending it to someone, because I was dying to talk about it. (I never got that copy back.)

I wanted to talk about it because the novel is surprisingly profound. It is unflinching in how it depicts a teenager’s powerlessness in the face of adult male sexuality, and how abuse shapes her burgeoning sexuality. It also contains a complex depiction of how the abuse shapes Laura’s life: her burgeoning addiction to cocaine, which she funds with sex work, the self-loathing she feels as she imagines she invited the attacks.

“It is a confident book,” says Dr Kirsty Fairclough, a senior lecturer in film and media at Salford University. “But it is highly problematic.”

For Fairclough, one of the most unsettling things about the book is how it was marketed to and read primarily by teenage girls. “I was a kid when I read this,” she says. “It was a status symbol, a sort of rebellion. I totally connected with Laura Palmer.

“Twin Peaks was much tamer. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer fills in the blanks in a way that can feel exploitative. It’s deeply disturbing.”

Much of the violence and abuse Laura experiences at the hands of BOB feels needlessly vivid. But Brad Dukes, author of Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, believes this discomfort is the point. “It’s a rocky and uncomfortable ride – but I think it was designed that way from square one,” he says. “It is Laura finally speaking for herself. We can follow her individual path – and there’s no avoiding [the fact that] that path was riddled with drugs, abuse and self-loathing.”

Dukes sees the novel as radical beyond its subject matter. Published before the second season had aired, the book came out just as Palmer’s diary was also being written into the narrative of the show – pre-empting the metatextual conceits of post-internet shows, such as Game of Thrones and Lost. “It succeeds in telling its own story while making the TV series and the film feel more layered, because the viewer can discover for themselves what is in the book that they see on screen,” Dukes says.

To coincide with the launch of Twin Peaks’ return to TV, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer is having its own revitalisation, with Audible set to release an audiobook voiced by Sheryl Lee, the actor who first portrayed Laura Palmer.

Lee, now 27 years older than when she first appeared as Palmer’s pretty corpse, brings a maternal tone to the material. Having an older woman narrate a teenage girl’s journal compounds the discomfort one might feel at the content, with Lee telegraphing worldly knowledge beyond young Palmer’s – and Lynch’s – understanding. It is sure to go down well with the Twin Peaks fans who read it at an age before they could comprehend the horrors within - as well as those who could all too well.

This article titled "The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer: Twin Peaks' problematic tie-in" was written by Lara Williams, for theguardian.com on Friday 19 May 2017 02.00pm

Books

Daddy Long Legs by Nadine Brun-Cosme and Aurélie Guillerey review – chicest picture book of the year

A tall tale of fatherly devotion with a dash of Edward Gorey and a lot of mid-century modern style,… Read more

How to master the art of change in a world in flux

The biggest change in my adult life, parenthood notwithstanding, is one I made eight years ago.… Read more

The Adventures of John Blake by Philip Pullman review – wonderfully nostalgic

This column doesn’t usually include comics that were written mostly with children or teenagers in… Read more

When tweeters attack: why do readers send authors their bad reviews?

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s a simple enough rule that most of… Read more

Farewell to the Horse: The Final Century of Our Relationship – review

As you pick up the reins of this book – trying to get a sense of what sort of a ride it is to be –… Read more

Online top ranking: what does Amazon Charts mean for the book industry?

For nine decades, the New York Times bestseller lists have been the industry gold standard when it… Read more

The 100 best nonfiction books: No 68 – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)

The slave trade and its legacy has become an important sub-theme in this series. If there is one… Read more

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson review – when Agatha went missing

In a real-life mystery as intriguing as the plots from her novels, Agatha Christie went missing for… Read more

House of Names by Colm Tóibín – brilliant retelling of a Greek tragedy

When Peter Hall staged Aeschylus’s The Oresteia at the National in 1981, his all-male cast wore… Read more

Jeremy Mulford obituary

My friend Jeremy Mulford, who has died aged 79, was a poet, publisher and editor who founded… Read more