Saturday, 11 April 2009

Deepaks Everywhere

The wise and perceptive KevinfromCanada drew my attention to another recent theme emerging on a number of literary novel covers: the floating candle/coracle or deepak. He noted its use on three new novels: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer, Dreams of Rivers and Seas, by Tim Parks, and The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin.






All three of these novels feature Westerners getting lost (emotionally or spiritually) to various degrees in Asia, and to them I'd add a fourth novel, this time a new edition of an older book, Say a Little Mantra for Me, by Yvonne Burgess: a bitterly funny little novel about a woman seeking New Age enlightenment as her all-female family falls apart in 1970s South Africa.



I'm not sure why all use the same sort of image, other than it being an effective shorthand for exotic Indian/Asian spirituality, and the fact that the bright lights and colours of the deepaks against dark, watery backgrounds make for eye-catching imagery.

The Tim Parks cover makes use of a photo by Steve McCurry, one of the best-known photojournalists in the world. His most famous picture is much reproduced on postcards and calendars.



The UK edition of Geoff Dyer's book (the first of the two shown above) is credited to a Marc Quinn. I have no idea if this is the same person as the sculptor responsible for various fairly hideous statues of a half-dressed Kate Moss thrusting her crotch at the people willing to pay vast sums for the works, but it would make the world a more interesting place if it was (especially as the Dyer book features an inpired piss-take of the art shown at the Venice Biennale).



This (the deepak covers, not Kate Moss's crotch) is an unusual case of the same sort of idea apparently occurring to several different book designers independently (the books all have different publishers, in different parts of the world), with the unfortunate result of multiple books' dramatic covers losing some of their effect through familiarity.

UPDATE: Ingrid Paulson, who maintains a fine blog here, designed the Echlin cover. She has let me know that "..it's strange, because initially I looked at Steve McCurry's photographs for inspiration, among others. However, we did a few rounds and nothing was catching with the editors, so the art director suggested this very image used on the cover. There is an important scene in the book that involves a candle ceremony, so it isn't just a facile visual interpretation. But I hear you on how seeing that image everywhere has weakened the impact."

13 comments:

tamilpenn said...

I think the diyas (or deepaks) afloat on rivers is probably the most cliched photo one sees about Varanasi (or spirituality, etc).

kevinfromcanada said...

Thanks JRSM for such a quick response to my observation. You don't have to be a graphic designer to figure out that the brightness of the orange contrasted with the deepness of the blue makes an appealing contrast. While I agree with tamilpenn that it seems a cliche, the question then becomes: why hasn't it been on book covers before? My guess is that it is the westerner-goes-east for enlightenment angle -- all four designers decided that the "candle" aspect was the link between the two cultures.

Ian Shimkoviak said...

I would have to say that in many of these cases it was an editor that suggested the image and thus it was used. A designer is not always responsible for clichés and for creating boring solutions.

JRSM said...

I suspect Ian is right here, but it is odd the way it suddenly appears on multiple books simultaneously. But at least it's not the same image being reused.

Ingrid Paulson said...

Hello. I designed the Kim Echlin... Its strange, because initially I looked at Steve McCurry's photographs for inspiration, among others. However, we did a few rounds and nothing was catching with the editors, so the art director suggested this very image used on the cover. There *is* an important scene in the book that involves a candle ceremony, so it isn't just a facile visual interpretation. But I hear you on how seeing that image everywhere has weakened the impact.

JRSM said...

Thanks for the background info, Ingrid: it really is a lovely image. I'll add your comments to the post.

kevinfromcanada said...

I'd like to salute Ingrid for her comment -- it would have been very easy to have simply ignored our little debate.

I too very much like the image -- actually all the images -- and view it as more unfortunate than anything else that it happens to have popped up in a number of places. Let's face it, there are only a few of us who will even know about this.

JRSM said...

There must be a fancy-sounding Latin-derived name that we book cover obsessives can use for ourselves. Bibliodermophiles?

Ingrid Paulson said...

I like that - bibliodermophiles.

As for the images, I think you've stumbled on a cover meme. Sometimes I'll talk with other book designers in Canada and we'll look back on a season's worth of jackets and say, 'well, that was a blue season,' or, 'look at the number of cut-off heads.' Different publishers (even different genres), same visual conclusion. A cover meme.

With the internet, I think cover memes are going international.

JRSM said...

'Cover memes' is a very useful phrase: I think I'll steal that! Thanks for that, Ingrid.

kevinfromcanada said...

I too like the notion of "cover meme". I'm sure it will be showing up in one of my posts soon.

kevinfromcanada said...

Sorry to bother you, but here is another "cover meme" that I think is timely -- naked, or almost naked, female backs. Olive Kitteridge (paperback, not hardcover) and All Souls from the Pulitzer list of three and Burnt Shadows (North American version, not UK) from the Orange Prize shortlist. You are the cover expert, not me, but I am particularly interested in why for the Kitteridge paperback and NA Shamsie they would opt for the image (certainly it is part of the Shamsie plot but the UK cover captures it much effectively) -- these are all what I would call "mature women" books and the sexiness of the image seems to be a negative rather than positive sales factor. If you have time for thoughts (and I suspect without much thinking you will come up with many more examples) I would certainly welcome them.

JRSM said...

No bother at all! Another example might be http://causticcovercritic.blogspot.com/2008/02/this-lass-gets-about-bit.html - but I'll do more hunting around and report back.