Friday Book Design Blog: The Infatuations by Javier Marías
Javier Marías is a major writer – he’s won so many awards he’s started turning them down, and his is a name that tends to get mentioned in connection with the Nobel Prize. His last, three-volume novel, Your Face Tomorrow, was compared, favourably, with Proust’s A La Recherche…
So why is it that when I look at his latest book, ‘a novel of love, death and obsession’ according to the blurb on the back of my advance reading copy, my first reaction is an annoying earworm of a vocal line jumping around in my head, a woman warbling “It’s got be-ye-ye-yeeee perfect”?
Well, because the image on the jacket is a detail of the photograph that appeared on the front of Fairground Attraction’s 1988 album, First of a Million Kisses, the lead single of which, ‘Perfect’, got to number one. It was an infuriatingly jaunty and catchy song, quite, quite horribly so, and the fact that it’s going round in my head even as I write this makes me glad that the band split up after that first album.
In fact, the photograph, by Eliott Erwin, fits neither the portrait format of the book cover, nor the square one of the record/CD. In its original landscape format it’s far more clear that the mirror the couple are seen in, kissing, or sort-of-kissing, is the wing-mirror of some kind of a classic American car. I think I must have assumed, back in the Fairground Attraction days, that the mirror was a pocket mirror, don’t ask me why.
In the photograph, however, you get more of the sea and of the coastline that the car is parked on for their canoodling. It perfectly suits the album title, and equally so Marias’s novel, which starts from the premise of the narrator’s near-obsessive interest in a ‘perfect’ couple that she sees breakfasting together at a café most mornings – it’s a book that starts in the world of voyeurism, and then delves deeper into the complicity of that relationship, what happens when the seer becomes entangled with the seen. Certainly, the couple are as elegantly dressed as the couple in the book.
But it does make me think – to what extent does the use of stock photography like this in book cover design run the risk of unintended associations? My favourite unlikely pairing is the half-forgotten British author Brigid Brophy, whose excellent novel Flesh has a cover, in its 1965 Corgi edition, that popped up again on the seminal Creation Records’ sampler LP Doing it for the Kids (also released in 1988, amusingly enough – that’s what I was listening to then, not Fairground Attraction).
Marías has had various kinds of covers. Your Face Tomorrow used stock images too across its UK hardback covers, too, where the Spanish (and US) went with some rather odd illustrations. Elsewhere in his backlist, Marías has had images by Man Ray, Herbert List, Edward Hopper and Tamara de Lempicka. He’s been given a breath of fresh air, I think, by Penguin Modern Classics, which have used some rather nattily austere photographs for their reissues – after all, they don’t need to lean on the use of already respected artists to prove it’s a classic.
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