Wednesday 19 March 2008

Nina Chakrabarti

I'm currently reading Submarine by Joe Dunthorne, an unease-inducing but very funny coming-of-age novel set in 1997. It's hard to tell whether the narrator is mildly mentally unhinged, or whether it's just that he's 14. A very good review can be found here if you are interested.

The cover of this book, published by Hamish Hamilton, is by Nina Chakrabarti (self-portrait shown here), and it's an absolute beauty. On her slightly out-of-date website, Chakrabarti says she "was born and spent her early life in Calcutta, India. She moved to the UK in her teens carrying her stamp collection under her arm and little else. She studied illustration at Central St. Martins, and many years later, at The Royal College of Art. Her work is often concerned with collections and the composition of objects. She works using Rotring pens, felt tips, biros, pencils, inks and the Apple Macintosh."

Her cover for Submarine emulates the sort of obsessively detailed drawing/doodling you find on a schoolkid's exercise book. Significantly, every object incorporated into this doodle is relevant to the book's plot. Click on the image to appreciate full-size version--I apologise for the slightly blurry bits, but I had to scan this in 3 bits and stitch it together to get the whole cover into one image, and I didn't want to damage the dustjacket in the process.

What makes this cover even better is that it's printed on a textured cartridge paper, and all of the doodling is slightly indented, as though by the pressure of a biro. It's this sort of attention to detail which can make a book a really satisfying art object as well as a bloody good read.

This also follows through to the book's endpapers, which Chakrabarti has decorated with a selection of the words which Submarine's precocious narrator likes to use and obsess over.

Seek out this book: it's definitely one to have in hardcover.

UPDATE: A slight downwards revision in my feelings for this book as I read on. This is not due to any fault in the writing as such, but because of a protracted, unnecessary and disgusting dog-death scene. At the risk of sounding like a crank, WRITERS SHOULD STOP KILLING DOGS IN THEIR BOOKS BECAUSE IT'S A COMPLETE FUCKING CLICHÉ! In any book (or film) that makes more than a passing reference to a dog, 99 times out of 100 it will be dead by the end: usually killed nastily. The writer either seems to feel that this will be amusing (it isn't), or that it will achieve some sort of poignant death-of-an-innocent effect (usually when said writer hasn't got the balls to kill off a human child character). Writers of the world: you're on fucking notice. Stop it!

UPDATE 2: That little rant aside, it's still a very good book.

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