Speak For England

Back in early 2005, in the pages of the Guardian/Observer, both Alfred Hickling and Clemency Burton-Hill reviewed James Hawes’s curious new novel, published by Jonathan Cape. Intrigued, I decided to seek it out. Try as I might, there was no way I could get Random House Canada to sell me the book. When the Vintage trade paperback came out in March 2006, still with no Canadian availability, I took matters into my own hands and imported it myself from the UK. It turns out that a small American publisher that I have never heard of purchased the full North American rights to this title, but they never had the decency to release it in Canada. Bâtards

Fast forward now to 2007, and we’re enjoying a vertible festival of Speak For England here in Canada. In late March Random House Canada, via its Anchor imprint, published a trade paper edition of the novel (under licence from the aforementioned small American press). Miracle of miracles, they decided to keep Steve Dell‘s original UK cover design, a playful take on the Boy’s Own and Eagle Annual of 1950s English schoolboy culture, rather than come up with some disatrous idea of their own. Then this week the French translation was released in Canada, published by Éditions de l’Olivier, an imprint of Éditions du Seuil that specializes in anglo-saxon literature. They’ve given it the title Pour le meilleur ou pour l’Empire, a delightful play on words (the phrase pour le meilleur ou pour le pire means for better or for worse) that evokes the ambivalency that one can feel towards the British Empire, especially as portrayed in the novel.

What is not delightful, however, is the cover design they’ve come up with. All they had to do was to slap some French words onto the Steve Dell design, but instead they decided to go their own way. The design credit is given as scandella@IDSland.com, which is surprising as Cédric Scandella has always struck me as being an exponent of the quiet is the new loud design school, especially when one considers the marvellous job he did of designing the covers for Christian Bourgois’s Titres (to be examined in a future post).

That being said, here then are the various cover designs (from left to right, top to bottom: Vintage UK trade paperback; l’Olivier French trade paperback; original Cape UK hardcover; Anchor Canada trade paperback). Click on a cover for the full size image.

From the Cape hardback to the Vintage paperback, notice the change of tagline from Great New Strips, Stories, Articles to The Great New Smash Hit Story, the replacement of the propeller-based aeroplane with a more modern-looking airplane, the change of content and font for the two newspaper quotes, as well as the change in background colour. The Canadian cover, like the American ones that came before it, takes the colour and quotes from the Cape hardcover, and the quotes font, airplane and tagline from the Vintage paperback. Unique to the Canadian cover, however, is the absence of the vertical bar on the left hand side (edit: it turns out that this was just an inaccurate publicity image provided by Random House), which creates the effect of that tape they used to put on the spine of children’s picture books in librairies.

The French cover design, especially when considered in the context of the original one by Steve Bell, is just terrible. I mean, look at the thing! The fake-looking union jack superimposed on the whole mess is the cherry to top it all off, the icing on the cake if you will. Disaster!

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~ by Thomas on 2007-Jun-15.

4 Responses to “Speak For England”

  1. I find this judgement on our cover very unpleasant and patronizing . The book is selling extremely well in France, and Le Monde used the artwork as an illustration for the story they ran in their books section. Everybody here agrees on the quality of the cover, which is not a copycat of the british cover but the result of a creative process. (O.C., Publisher)
    PS. L’Olivier is no more an imprint of Le Seuil, but a separate company.

  2. @Olivier Cohen:
    Surtout ne soyez pas offusqué. À chacun son opinion, non ? As a general rule, I love your cover designs, especially those of Cédric Scandella. His standard templates for your collections de littératures française et étangère, as well as for la revue «Penser/Rêver» are stunningly beautiful in their simplicity; il fait preuve d’un graphisme qui relève du grand art. It’s as a big fan of l’Olivier/Scandella cover designs that I was disappointed by the design for «Speak For England». But that’s just me. I read the piece in Le Monde and I’m sure it is selling well in France, but this blog is not about those things. It’s simply about one man’s appreciation of book cover designs.

    En passant, I was not aware that l’Olivier is now a separate company. The yellow pages still give your address as the legendary 27, rue Jacob, Paris VI, synonyme des éditions du Seuil.

  3. OK, I understand…
    Sans rancune,
    Olivier Cohen
    PS. Our address is actually THE 27, rue Jacob famous building (yes, the house with the tree, although it’s not an olive tree).

  4. If you really want to find what is a “creative cover” for the book, than you must look at the Israeli cover for the book.
    see:
    http://readingmachine.co.il/home/books/1198076779

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