Thursday 24 January 2008

Something in the Sea?

To be honest, Iris Murdoch is not a writer I rate very highly. She has a great reputation as a thinker and philosopher, and that's probably fair enough. As a novelist, however, she has severe failings. This is not something you'd necessarily know from the near-sanctification of her that has taken place over the past few years, spearheaded by her husband's various memoirs.

One of these was turned into Iris the movie, which I enjoyed (with all its steely Judi Dench-ness and rampant Kate Winslet nudity), but which also hid the fact that, despite all their claims to great love, Murdoch and her hsuband were both rampantly unfaithful, and tended to use the third parties they were bonking to attack one another psychologically.

Looking at her vast back catalogue, and the number of them which have fallen out of print, I would have suspected that Murdoch does not in fact still sell very well. However, a 2004 story in The Guardian noted that her Booker Prize winner from 1978, The Sea, The Sea, sells some 7600 copies a year. And fair enough: if people want clunky characters, unrealistic dialogue and shoehorned-in philosophy then she's your writer of choice.

The point of this little rant, though, is to draw attention to the new Vintage Classics edition of The Sea, The Sea, which has a really lovely cover (designer unknown to me, as I've lost the bit of paper I wrote it down on in the bookshop). [UPDATE: I find that the designer is actually Jo Walker, who also did the Perec cover discussed above!]

I didn't even notice the sinister tentacle the first time I looked at this, but it's very clever. I also like the three-dimensional, layered-paper effect on this cover (though I suspect that effect was computer-generated with drop shadows rather than photographic, it still works well). It has a somewhat Japanese feel, like a wave-painting by Katsushika Hokusai crossed with the complex layered-paper work of Masayuki Miyata.

To see what I mean, here's Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and an illustration Masayuki did for The Tale of Genji.

By the way, the title of this post came from a thriller I read recently by Yves Bonavero. It's no masterpiece, but it's a lot of murky fun.

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