Judging the Booker by its Covers, Part One

This is round one of ‘Judging the Booker by its covers’, where we decide who’ll win the Man Booker by looking at their covers and facetiously bantering.

Actually, I bet that’s exactly what the real judging’s like.

And yes, since you ask, I did come up with the idea for this post after thinking of its title.

Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!

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The Master – Colm Toibin Does its first job well – the classiness of the cover tells you this not a novel about the Doctor Who villain (though might that not be a useful audience to cultivate? Don’t Doctor Who and the works of Henry James have striking similarities – the interest in negotiating an alien culture; doctor’s real name as missing middle of ‘Figure In the Carpet’, etc; James’s psychological concentration revealing that tardis-like, we are larger inside than outside; and Cybermen.) Classy, classy, classy – that’s what this cover says to me: “please give me the Booker,” it says, “I promise I won’t be picked by Richard and Judy’s Book Club; but I also promise to sit quietly in 3-for-2 offers in Waterstones. I will neither cause a fuss, nor vulgarise myself. I am a good child. Like me, TLS.” But you know what? We don’t respect that kind of polite desperation. Plus gaelic names look a bit weird in dignified fonts. BZZZT! You lose.

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell Just hideous. Yuk. The entire thing seems to be composed of marginal, gross colours. The saddest story I know: one of the finest authors of his generation writes a book that truly establishes him, puts him up there: he goes to his publisher, drops off the manuscript, but, while sauntering out the door, probably pretty fucking pleased with himself, he makes his one mistake: he’s forgotten to say “no maroon”. BZZT! You lose!

Bitter Fruit – Achmat Dangor Oh this is good. This does its job. First of all, it’s literal – ‘Bitter Fruit’ has fruit on its cover. We have to assume they’re bitter, I suppose. They don’t look it. For the paperback, they perhaps could maybe make them lickable and infuse the cover with some kind of bitter taste. That could lead to scenes in bookshops. Good publicity, though, so you can have that idea on me Atlantic. The literalism is useful – it makes sure you don’t think it’s a novel about a poisonous gay man in the 1950s; instead it lets you know that if you’re excited by cultures that get more sunshine than England, then this is the boy for you. However, I’m not really drawn to this palette, and there’s a still artiness makes it seem a little worthy – a self-consciously Guardiany artifact. Makes me suspect the prose is going called to be called ‘sensuous’, too. So, tempting, but BZZT! You lose!