Sunday 4 May 2008

An Argument Against the Utopian Theory of Inevitable Progress, Demonstrated via the Cover Designs for a Barry Humphries Novel

In 1995, actor and chameleon Barry Humphries published Women in the Background, a scathing novel about the life of an Australian man who has found fame dressing up as an outrageous housewife-superstar ("Mrs Petty"), and who meets a dark and sticky end. It's one of the most intriguingly self-loathing bits of thinly disguised autobiography I've ever read, and not a bad novel in its own right.

The first Australian edition featured a painting called 'The Friends', by Cornelius Kloos.

Perhaps made nervous by the hint of female genitalia, the British first edition went for something more obvious. It took me several looks before I realised that what I had thought was a shop window dummy was actually a broken old statue.

For the paperback, the UK publisher decided to use the Kloos painting, but with all the worrying bits cropped out.

For the reprint, however, they went for something else again. Dull, but generally appropriate enough (business suit plus fuzzy handbag).

I suspect--and hope--that you'll agree with me that the general trend has been for each edition to look a little less interesting and attractive than the one before. However, you've seen nothing yet. Behold Penguin's new edition from 2007, which sets astounding new standards for hideousness.

Problems: Way too busy. Over-literal interpretation of the title. Bad art. Nasty colours. Cheap Photoshop drop-shadows. Even the type treatment of the author's name is vile. Who would see a book that looked like this and think, "Yes, I must read this!"? It's the sort of cover bad self-published novels get.


Steerforth said...

Yes, that jacket has self-published written all over it. I'm amazed that it was considered acceptable.

JRSM said...

It is truly hideous, isn't it?