Friday Book Design Blog: Free Fall by William Golding
William Golding might be one of those authors that publishers fear will shrink over time to the contours of a single famous work, that remains read by everyone while their other books languish forgotten. For Golding, of course, that one book would be Lord of the Flies, just as for Lawrence Durrell, another author being published by Faber & Faber over some of the same time, it might be The Alexandria Quartet – though I don’t suppose that gets set so often as a secondary school text.
Faber are in the middle of reissuing Golding’s novels in an edition designed by Neil Gower, whose illustrations they are clearly hoping will become as emblematic of the author as have been illustrations in the past from Paul Hogarth (that bleeding pig’s head on a stick) and, further back, Anthony Gross.
The link to Faber’s history is there in the typography, which is Gower’s hand-drawn version of Albertus, the classic font designed by Berthold Wolpe, the German designer who basically epitomised the type-heavy Faber look until the 1980s – distinctive, striking, even strident.
But it’s the illustrations that are most eye-catching here. It’s worth noting that although Gower is behind the complete series of Goldings – started when he was given the job of designing the 50th Anniversary edition of Lord of the Flies, in 2004 – he changes his approach from book to book. My favourite of them so far is Free Fall, Golding’s fourth novel, for which we can see the final cover and one of Gower’s preliminary sketches.
The style is gentle (“a mixture of watercolour, graphite and gouache,” according to the artist), the colours soft, the whole thing as far from Wolpe, and from Hogarth’s visceral and Gross’s line-heavy covers, as you might imagine. It will certainly stand out, on the contemporary book shelf, as very much something out of time. The patterns of shadow and greenery on the white cliffs, for instance, could almost be a fabric from some post-war British designer.
I put it to Gower, as politely as I could, that this seemed a detemindedly unfashionable approach to packaging the author, which I hope he took the right way. “It is intentionally war-time/post-war in style,” he says, “and was influenced by the work of John Piper especially.”
Interestingly, all of Gower’s covers for the Goldings have to be approved by Judy Carver, Golding’s daughter, whom the artist met when they were on the judging panel of a competition to design a cover for a school’s edition of… yes, Lord of the Flies.
“The most gratifying moment of developing each cover was Judy’s reaction,” Gower says, “which almost always indicated that I had hit on some central truth that her father had been keen to explore – and, in one or two instances, unearthed something that she’d not quite been aware of before, but fitted well with his thinking and beliefs. Judy would often explain this with personal recollections of her father, which were both very touching and fascinating.”
Do all designers have the time to read the books they work on as thoroughly as Gower clearly does? (Free Fall, for instance, is narrated by an English prisoner of war held in a German POW camp, who looks back over his life in England, trying to decide when it was that he truly lost his freedom.) You’d like to think they do, but you’d have to assume it happens less than you’d like. Here, the extra commitment shows up in the detail and texture of the finished product. Gower says, “I was pleased with the way in which this image encompassed the war, South East England, the white feathers and – through the layered altitudes of cliffs, plane and feathers – a strong sense of the ‘FALL’ in the title.”
Fans of Golding’s work will be keen to see what Gower comes up with for the remaining books, the ‘Sea Trilogy’ To the Ends of the Earth, and Darkness Visible – “my favourite book,” says Gower, “and, probably not coincidentally, favourite design of this series. The layers of meaning, imagery and narrative were so dizzyingly rich that the design just seemed to fall onto the page.”
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