Overkill or added value?

Updated: 2011-09-16 07:48

By Chitralekha Basu (China Daily)

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Abigail Howell, Penguin China's publicity manager, concedes the campaign to promote Midnight in Peking is "certainly ambitious".

"In researching the book, Paul uncovered a wealth of materials. It seemed a shame not to find a way to share them," she says.

The book, launched this month in China and Australia, has spawned a set of ancillaries that could be enjoyed independent of the conventional turning of pages.

There is a website (www.midnightinpeking.com) containing hundreds of photographs from 1930s Peking and the book's real-life characters, video clips in which the author introduces some of the locations mentioned in the book, and a downloadable audio walk.

Bookmarks, flyers, posters with images of the main protagonist - 19-year-old Pamela Werner whose gruesome murder in 1937 is what the book sets out to reconstruct and solve - and wrapping paper inspired by original news clippings are in circulation.

On Tuesday, the author led a select group through the iconic locations mentioned in the book, and is currently in the middle of a whistle-stop book tour across continents.

We asked a few seasoned readers if the surfeit of related material within easy access might not kill one's interest in wanting to pick up a copy and read it.

Prerna Singh, Chinese language enthusiast and member of a local book club, is charmed by the grainy images of Beijing from the 1930s on the website.

"Somehow it echoes the true nature of Beijing, which is reclusive and yet tantalizingly draws us to discover what is barely hidden underneath the city's present garish exterior," she says.

She also likes the fact that the author refers to a popular Chinese novel (Lin Yutang's Moment in Peking) and a movie based on it, which, she feels, "gives the website a certain 'crossover appeal'".

She wouldn't mind investing in a copy of the book. Having watched the promos, she feels the book has all the ingredients of a hit - "a Bollywood blockbuster!"

Ellen Smith, who teaches English in Beijing, is also interested in buying a copy.

"While the website had a lot of information about the book and a downloadable version of the walking tour, I do not feel like it would be a replacement for reading the book itself," she says.

But doesn't an information overload and a set of spin-offs from the original sometimes result in overkill, shattering the so-called sacred bond between the reader and the writer?

In this case "the material in circulation outside of the book is sanctioned by the author", Smith says. "French himself is giving the midnight tour."

The campaign is not on the scale of Harry Potter or the Twilight series, in which instances the abundance of extra material, unauthorized websites and a range of related merchandize could cause a break in that bond, she admits.

Evidently, the Midnight in Peking campaign has her vote.