Sunday, April 1, 2007

Judging a Book?, April 2007

By Fence

This month I’ve chosen two very different covers to talk about. Design is a very subjective thing, but I think that these two covers work especially well. The first is for a non-fiction book entitled The Squad and the Intelligence Operations of Michael Collins by T. Ryle Dwyer. For those of you who haven’t heard of Michael Collins, he was one of the most famous Irish revolutionaries of all time, involved in the War of Independence and killed in the Irish Civil War. The cover design features a pale, almost washed out photo of Collins, with a separate photo of the Squad members overlaid on the bottom of this photo. And of course, on top of all this is the title and the author’s name.

And of course there is a gun. The revolver is probably the most prominent aspect of the design, and this fits in perfectly with the book. It is, after all, concerned with The Squad and Collins’ intelligence operations, much of which concerned murdering people at close range, and in cold blood. Violence is part and parcel of the book.

Every intelligence operation must operate in the shadows, never clearly seen, perhaps the reason for the washed out appearance of Collins’ and the squad on the cover?

One of the main objectives of a cover is to make a casual browser curious, to attract their attention in the hope that they will pick it up and buy it. Bright colours attract attention, so the eye is immediately drawn to this book. In that I think it more than fulfils its purpose. There aren’t all that many photos of Collins. He was a shadowy figure, not being recognised was the reason he was able to come and go around the country despite being a wanted man, but there are some photos. That the designers of this cover chose not to use one of the more iconic images shows, I think, that they wanted to portray Collins in a different manner than other biographies and historical accounts have done so up until now.

The Squad uses historical interviews and first-hand accounts of the men and women involved in the intelliegence operations. It is important, therefore, that the cover also feature some of those faces.

The second cover I’m looking at is for a fiction novel, Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey. A coming of age story, detailing a Dublin childhood of the recent past.

The version over on the left hand side is the cover that seems to be most common at the moment. My copy of this novel must be an earlier printing as it is slightly different. The photo used seems to be the same one, but in my copy it is arranged differently, and there is less extraneous text. Instead of the Colum McCann’s quote there is simply a three word extract from a newspaper review. Personally I prefer the earlier design, so I’ve scanned it in to show that slight differences can make a huge difference.

As you can see it has the same photo of the young girl, slightly blury, her features obscured by her hair, and by the fact that she is looking down, away from the camera. And it is a lovely simple and uncluttered design that becomes a little clunky in the other version, in my opinion at least.

I’ve always liked sepia toned photos, so this cover appealed to me on that level, and it fits in with the story of the novel perfectly. The narrator of the book isn’t a straight “I” narrator telling the story. Instead it is a voice that tells Tatty’s story, sometimes in first person, sometimes in third, just like the face on the cover the person telling the story is hidden from the reader. There is also the slightest hint of sadness about that girl on the cover, a sadness echoed in the story of Tatty’s dysfunctional family. If the novel is “Beautiful and heartbreaking”, then the cover is evocative and beautiful.

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