CategoryBlack Robin

Comparing Book Covers: UK vs US

I’m always fascinated by the differences in book covers between countries. The Millions runs an annual feature comparing US and UK cover art, and a similar post appeared on Flavorwire a few days ago. I’ve decided to do a cover post of my own, with some of the books I’ve featured on this blog.

(UK covers are on the left, US covers on the right; title links go to my reviews of the books, for context.)

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

 dbuk  dbus

The UK cover indicates folklore and the sea; it’s nice enough, but feels perhaps a little too obvious. The US cover, I think, captures the deeper heart of the book – that mixture of domesticity and sinister magic; I especially love the way that the stairs shade into abstract geometry. Winner: US

The Buddha in the Attic – Julie Otsuka

 bauk  baus

Two broadly similar treatments here, with the red parasol as focus. I think the closed parasol in the case evokes the novel’s themes better. Winner: UK

Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry – B.S. Johnson

 cmuk  cmus

The covers of the most recent editions. There’s a simple elegance to both, but for me the disintegrating ledger is a little too literal, especially compared with the boldness of the UK cover. Winner: UK

The Longshot – Katie Kitamura

 lsuk  lsus

I like the composition of both these covers, but the image of the fighter and his trainer walking away makes it look as though their job is done. The clenched fists of the US cover evoke the tension and violence which are at the novel’s core. Winner: US

The Still Point – Amy Sackville

 spuk  spus

Oh, there’s no contest here: the paper cut-out look of the UK cover is gorgeous; the US cover doesn’t come close for me. Winner: UK

Redemption in Indigo – Karen Lord

 riuk  rius

The composition of the US cover is elegant, but I think the UK cover better evokes the tone of the book (tricksy-but-serious) . Winner: UK

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu

 hluk  hlus

Hmm. Yu’s novel plays with the conventions of both sf and mainstream ‘literary fiction’, which is captured nicely by the UK cover, with its ordered arrangement of laser guns. But it’s also a playful novel, and that spirit is evoked by the US cover, made to look like an old manual, complete with ‘creased’ cover obscuring the publicity quotes. I can’t choose one over the other. Winner: it’s a draw.

Communion Town – Sam Thompson

 ctuk  ctus

I’m not sure either of these covers really captures the essence of Thompson’s book, but the UK one wins out for me as being more intriguing and distinctive., turning a map into abstract art. (Incidentally, this is the cover of the UK hardback; the paperback cover, like the US one, goes down the less-interesting ‘murky skyscraper’ route.) Winner: UK

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This – Robin Black

 iluk  ilus

Well, I don’t think the UK cover is very interesting at all. The US cover is not great, but the paint effect is a nice touch, and the title is used well within the composition. Winner: US

The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt

 sbuk  sbus

Wow. What a difference in treatment. I love nigh on everything about the UK cover (it looks even better on the physical object). The US cover is too specific to suit the novel’s air of ambiguity, and just isn’t as well conceived as the more stylised version. Winner: UK

Book notes: Stevenson, van Mersbergen, Black

Robert Louis Stevenson, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

The first thing I realised on reading Jekyll and Hyde was that I didn’t know the story; I knew the transformation, the dual identity, but not the tale built around it. In fact, the reading of the book turned out to be in large part an exercise in having my preconceptions overturned.

The plot of Stevenson’s book revolves around the investigation by a lawyer named Utterson into why one of his clients, Dr Henry Jekyll, has made a will bequeathing everything to one Edward Hyde, when Hyde is known to be repugnant and violent. The answer, of course, I knew in advance; but that knowledge didn’t stop me finding it interesting to see how Stevenson led his readers towards the conclusion.

The figure of Hyde is what fascinated me most, however, because the reality of him was so different from what I had in mind beforehand. My preconception was that Hyde would be some big, hulking monster; when actually he’s physically small and undistinguished, but with an indefinable aura of there being something not quite right about him, which aura repels everyone he meets. What Hyde represents doesn’t play out in quite the way I’d expected, either; yes, he’s the distilled dark side of Jekyll’s nature, but his defining characteristic is less violence per se than a lack of propriety – Hyde will do the things that Jekyll’s conscience wouldn’t allow, and that makes him an attractive figure to Jekyll. This is what Stevenson captures so vividly: the conflict between restraint and giving in to one’s impulses. No wonder the names of Jekyll and Hyde entered the language as an expression.

Jan van Mersbergen, Tomorrow Pamplona (2007/11)

Boxer Danny Clare is on the move, and hitches a lift with a man named Robert, who is on his way to Pamplona for the Bull Run; not where Danny had in mind, but he needs to go somewhere, and it might as well be there. The chronicle of the two men’s journey to Pamplona is interspersed with passages depicting Danny’s life in the boxing world; the tangle he got into after falling for Ragna, the beautiful assistant of his new promoter; and the ultimate impetus for his current travels.

Tomorrow Pamplona is the fifth title from the ever-interesting Peirene Press, this time by Dutch author van Mersbergen (in the interests of fairness, I should declare that I know Laura Watkinson, the translator). As the publisher, Meike Ziervogel, notes in her brief introduction, the book is not quite as simple and straightforward as its direct style may at first suggest. There’s a twitchiness to the prose that mirrors the nervous energy Danny has as a boxer; for example, the scenes on the road often end it what feels like an extraneous detail, as though to suggest a kind of restless looking-around.

There are three scenes in particular which stand out to me as most effectively utilising the characterisation of Danny as a boxer, and the physicality which comes with that: the opening scene of Danny travelling on foot; the sequence at the Bull Run itself, where one of the key plot events takes place; and the critical incident that set Danny on the road. The book is engaging throughout, but I found those three scenes especially powerful. There’s also an effective contrast between the two travellers, with Robert’s view of the Bull Run as an escape from everyday life coming across as rather naïve (and, ultimately, carrying a bitterly ironic twist) when compared to the burden from which Danny seeks to escape. Tomorrow Pamplona is yet another great read from Peirene.

Other reviews: Book After Book; Just William’s Luck; Notes from the North.

Robin Black, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This (2010)

An interesting collection of stories whose characters are frequently dealing with loss, secrets, and troubled relationships. What I find particularly striking in many of the pieces is the way Black foregrounds a particular plot thread that reflects, comments on, or interacts in some way with the relationship situation going on elsewhere.

So, for example, in ‘The Guide’, when Jack Snyder takes his daughter Lila to buy a guide dog, it’s not only a way for him to make up for not being able to protect her from the accident that blinded Lila as a child; it’s also an opportunity for Jack to figure out how he’s going to tell his daughter about his affair. In ‘Harriet Elliot’, the narrator’s relationship with the titular new girl at school – who has outlandish tales of being kidnapped and held to ransom as a small child – is what keeps her going as her home-life disintegrates (the demarcation between background and foreground is particularly sharp and noticeable in this story).

Elsewhere in If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, we have further memorable characters and incidents. Some that stand out in particular to me are: Artie and Nina from ‘Some Women Eat Tar’, a couple about to become parents, though it was Artie’s idea and he wants to be in charge of everything, whilst Nina is at best ambivalent about it; Clara Feinberg, the portrait painter in ‘Immortalizing John Parker’, who’s trying to understand the subject of her latest commission at the same time as her ex-husband’s re-entering her life; and Kate Rodgers, who finds echoes of her relationship with her twin brother when interacting with others on holiday in ‘The History of the World’.

Just about the only story in the collection that I didn’t get along with was the earliest, ‘Gaining Ground’ – not because of its content, but because its prose style was so different from that of the rest; choppier and more self-conscious, it rubbed me the wrong way and really stuck out in  comparison with the smoother telling of the other stories. Leaving that one piece aside, though, Black’s debut is well worth a read.

Robin Black’s website
Other reviews: Bibliophiliac; Short Story Slore; A notebook cracked open…

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