Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Paola Piglia presents...


There is a style of cover art that was quite common in the 1990s, and seems to have fallen out of fashion more recently. It made use of bold, roughly-textured paintings, often quite surreal in style, and worked well on the books of literary authors who tended to add something fantastical to their plots.

Probably the best artist of this style is Paola Piglia: Italian-born, for a while a resident of New York, and now based in London. An old friend reminisces about knowing her here.

I first noticed her work on the cover of the English translation of Jiří Weil's posthumous masterpiece, Mendelssohn is on the Roof.



In this wide-ranging exploration of Nazi-occupied Prague, the plot kicks off when an SS functionary is ordered to remove the statue of banned Jewish composer Mendelssohn from the concert hall roof. Unable to determine which statue is which, he decides to have the one with the biggest nose pulled down. Unfortunately, this turns out to be tha statue of Nazi hero Richard Wagner. Things unravel from there.

Weil, by the way, knew what he spoke of in terms of life under the Nazis. Summoned for deportation to a concentration camp in 1942, he survived by faking his own suicide and going into hiding in various empty apartments, with friends, and even in a hospital. His other novel in English translation, Life with a Star, is one of the saddest books ever written (and I've read Boy).

Back to Paola Piglia: her work has appeared on the covers of many Jose Saramago books...






..as well as on the German translations of arch-self-regarder Jeanette Winterson...








..and on the covers of never-translated-into-English Ljudmila Petruschewskaja...




..and several books by bookshop-staff-baffling Lisa St Aubin de Terán ("Do I shelver her under S, A, D or T?").




Here are a few more of her covers:








***

Coming Soon: interviews with the excellent David Drummond, the marvellous Katy Homans and the brilliant Michael Kellner. If you haven't read about them before, what an opportunity to do so now!

15 comments:

John Self said...

This post just serves to make me weep at the demise of Harvill as an independent publisher. Those beautiful large format paperbacks with the leopard on the side and elegant Garamond titling...

Jeanette Winterson "arch-self-regarder" - well, quite. I remain a fan, but was trying to work out what novel Das Schwester Universum is. The Sister Universe? (Googling, I see it was published in 1997, which could make it Gut Symmetries, one of her weaker hours.)

And the Lisa St Aubin de Teran point reminds me of how maddening I find it when bookshops file Louis de Bernieres under D. Or does it annoy me when they file him under B? Damn...

JRSM said...

Harvill were great, weren't they? I remember reading one of their books, back when they were all numbered on the spine, and it had a list of their first 80-odd books in the back, and they all looked fascinating. And now they're just yet another wing of Random House, with no real separate reason for being.

I've not read Winterson beyond 'Written on the Body' and 'The powerbook', but I keep on meaning to get 'Oranges...'. Her new one, with all of her, "No, really, it's not science-fiction, even though it's full of robots and spaceships and is set in the future!" doesn't appeal, though.

Most shops seem to solve those sort of problems by randomly distributing the books between the two letters, thus huaranteeing you'll never find the one you're looking for.

John Self said...

The worst thing about 'Harvill Secker' as they now are, is that some of their best books are not getting paperback release at all, like the recent editions of W.F. Hermans, Soderberg's Doctor Glas (though it's been reprinted several times in hardback, so maybe they know what they're doing) and Enrique Vila-Matas's Montano (their reductive title for Montano's Malady, as the US edition has it), though the last may get a paperback as it's just been longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Writing.

John Self said...

Oh and re Winterson, The Powerbook I think is her worst (followed by Gut Symmetries) and I think Oranges is overrated (though it is her most linear and new-reader-friendly book). My tip would be Sexing the Cherry which is lyrical, clever and often very funny while keeping her more pretentious leanings in check. Mostly.

JRSM said...

OK, 'Sexing the Cherry' it is, then. And the lack of Harvill paperbacks is very irritating, you're right: I've been waiting to read 'Darkroom of Damocles' for ages, thinking it would be a paperback soon, but no! Bastards.

Steerforth said...

I went through an official period of mourning when Harvill were absorbed into Random House. However, as a buyer I didn't notice that Random were publishing fewer fiction in translation titles.

Is Life With a Star sadder than Boy? I'd never thought about that before, but yes,I'd have to agree. The naivety of the narrator in Life With a Star makes his story far more tragic than the relentless melodrama of Boy.

I'd forgotten all about those early 90s covers. Yes, they were de rigeur in those days and for me, were a hallmark of the sort of insipid, plot-free, literary fiction that was so popular then.

Ian Brian Shimkoviak said...

looking forward to the interviews!

These covers are great. I think a lot of these pieces of art were done by polish poster artists, but I may be wrong...

Ian Brian Shimkoviak said...

...either that or Paola was heavily influenced by many Polish poster artists...

Ian Brian Shimkoviak said...

Childhood family friend, Jan Glinski (polish), was a prolific book cover designer back in the day. After some major industry shifts, he now sails and maintains yachts for rich Hampton folks... surely a great book design career tempered.

check out some of his jackets and art:
http://www.janglinski.com/

JRSM said...

Ian: All of the images displayed here are 'Piglia originals',but I agree with you about the Polish influenvce, which I hadn't noticed myself. And thank you for that link to Jan Glinski's stuff. You've already introduced me to so much great stuff!

John: 'Life...'s narrator always seems to think things might turn out OK, which is awful because you KNOW they won't. And his only friend being the cat... All too sad. And those early '90s book covers were all the rage when I first had enough disposable income to buy too many books for my own good, so they made a big impression on me for that reason, I suspect.

John Self said...

Confession time: I started Life With a Star earlier this year (on your recommendation, JRSM) but gave up about a quarter way through. I think I was a bit bored by the past-present structure, and had a fair idea of how it would conclude (ie pretty much as it had started). However there was another factor, another book I was itching to get to I think, so I am pretty sure I didn't give it a fair run, and will go back to it (especially as I paid over £20 for the rare Penguin Modern Classic edition!).

I also haven't read Boy, though in a nice bit of circularity, a couple of Hanley's books were reissued by Harvill in the UK (actually I thought Boy had been too, but can't see it online anywhere).

Also, although Harvill was independent for about ten years (from the mid-90s to the mid-00s), for a long time before that it was a subsidiary of HarperCollins, which is much worse than Random House owing to the Murdoch connection. So let's not be too sad.

JRSM said...

OK, I did not know about the Murdoch connection. Although my wife has been known to write food articles as a freelancer for our local Murdoch paper (horribly, he was born in Adelaide). But from my diminished moral standing, i still cry: you must read 'Life with a Star'! And if you read 'Boy' immediately afterwards, then it's time to proceed to the sleeping pills.

JRSM said...

PS; When I say "horribly, he was born in Adelaide", I mean Rupert Murdoch, not my wife. Also, I live in Adelaide, hence the particular horror of it. This is why I should read what I write before hitting "PUBLISH".

Stewart said...

"the covers of never-translated-into-English Ljudmila Petruschewskaja"

Just here to let you know that she has been published in English translation. Back in 2000 by Northwestern University Press. The links below are both to The Time Night, although the UK Amazon has ballsed up her name.


http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0810118009
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0810118009

JRSM said...

Ah, brilliant: thanks, Stewart--that book looks really interesting. No wonder I couldn't find it, with them screwing up her surname and losing her first name entirely.