Friday Book Design Blog: Petit Mal, by DBC Pierre
This new collection from DBC Pierre is a lovely thing to behold, and to hold. It comes, in its limited special edition of 1,000, in a slipcase, and with an exclusive print, the print and book signed (or, rather, initialed) by the author – though not numbered, which seems a shame, in the manner of these things. A lot of care and expense has gone into the production – it’s printed on glossy paper, with dozens of colour illustrations, and in its case it is agreeably substantial.
The writer himself acknowledged this at an Edinburgh Book Festival event, as Tweeter @caseforbooks reports:
“In this modern world this book is a fetish object… Put one in a bag and sniff it and you’ll be arrested.” DBC Pierre #edbookfest
— Anna James (@acaseforbooks) August 22, 2013
It reminds me of a nice, heavy CD box set, and in fact at 6½ sq. inches it is halfway between the size of a CD and a seven inch single. (Seven inches square were the exact dimensions of Bill Drummond’s wonderful collection ‘45’.) To be more precise, the CD box set it reminds me of the Trance Europe Xpress series from, I guess, the 90s, which combined a couple of mix CDs of trance tracks with a thick and luscious book of images and, possibly, text, that I suppose you were meant to leaf through as you let the music wash over you, late at night, and in whatever mental state you found yourself.
But really, this only highlights the problem with such a book: what, really, are you getting all the extra design material for? The box, the images, the exclusive print? Is an enticement to read the text? Or a distraction from it? I’m afraid to say that the ‘short fictions, philosophical vignettes and aphoristic interludes’ that make up the wordy part of ‘Petit Mal’ don’t, to my mind, justify the effort expended on them.
‘News’ begins: “It’s ten o’clock. The death toll arising from January clearance sales has topped a hundred,” which, as far as satire goes, is not very far at all, while ‘Delinquent’ performs an entirely gratuitous and self-defeating take-down on that most divisive and slippery of targets, Father Christmas. It’s not all this bad: I liked ‘Immaculate’, which effects a rather moving meeting between Pierre, or his stand-in, and the pre-Jesus Virgin Mary, who crops up elsewhere.
From a design point of view, the illustrations conceal as much as they reveal. Did Pierre take and adapt the photos? Or source them? Did he draw the cartoons? Or caption them? Or approve them? In short, is the design element of ‘Petit Mal’ his own labour of love, or that of the Faber design department? No indication anywhere in the thing. In other words, is this an honourable attempt by a writer to see his vision embodied in its fullest form, or a bold stab by a publisher at dressing up a collection of odds and sods (half or so of the pieces are previously published) for the market place?
Well, while I like the look of it, and would be the first to put it in a bag and sniff it, the result leaves me rather more clear-headed than was probably intended – if the point of book design is to match style to substance, here the style leaves the substance rather crushed.
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