Thursday, 16 August 2012

Judging a Book by its Cover : Kafka's The Trial

(by Rob Lee)

We all know the old adage, and hopefully apply it to things outside of the literary world, but what if, we invert its meaning and take it literally?

How well does a cover seek to draw in a new reader? How well does it summarise the premise and tone? How convincingly does it conjure up the context or personality of the time it was written, and how well does it represent the character of the author?

Points will be given from one to five based on these kinds of concerns, along with a little sprinkling of personal opinion and humour of course. Alright, let’s do this!

Episode 1: The Trial – Franz Kafka

This week we take a look at covers for Kafka’s darkly comic novel of labyrinthine courtrooms and senseless bureaucracy.

Exhibit A – Oxford World Classics (2009)

Oxford World Classics boldly capture the physical and mental torment of a 3am essay crisis through the medium of a broken, scratchy pencil against a dreadful blue background. Now who’s this Kafka chap?

1 K out of 5.

Exhibit B – Dover Thrift Editions (2009)

As far as I can tell its David Seaman saving an absolute belter…or maybe it’s someone kneeling down to take a picture of the Eiffel Tower?  Oh wait! I see it! It’s supposed to be a guy pleading to a judge! Oh, in that case, points for effort! Bland use of colours and font let this one down though.

2.5 K’s out of 5

Exhibit C - Wordsworth Classics Edition

Nice to see a budget publisher coming in from an oblique angle with this one. Wordsworth editions try to conjure up the mixed feelings of Kafka’s novel with this modernist collage, Cathedral (1913), by Frantisek Kupka, which also reflects the burgeoning, modernist techniques of Kafka’s era. It also adds a warm, academic note to the look of book, but may be a little sombre overall to attract casual readers.

4 K’s out of 5

Exhibit D – Penguin World Classics (1994)

Now this is more like it! Dark caricatures capture Kafka’s weird characterisations and the fact the tall one looks like zombie Tsar Nicholas the Second is just epic. The bizarre, note-writing gentleman at the table adds the sense of useless documentation and botched legal proceedings - this is a book I’d love to delve into!

5 K’s out of 5

Exhibit E – Modern Voices/Hesperus Press Ltd (2005)

Oh I’m really not sure about this one. I get the idea of a downward swirl (which is also a kind of maze effect) but, in reality, this looks like a close-up on a shell... Modern Voices often go for really vivid colours, their extremely green frog on Bulgakov’s Fatal Eggs is a good example, but the dreamy blue colour doesn’t really chime with the feeling of the book or the kinds of cover their competitors are putting out.

2 K’s out of 5

WINNER: It’s an oldie but a goodie and has to be the Penguin World Classics edition of 1994. Tune in next time for more pointless analysing!

Did Rob make the right choice? Are there any books you'd like us to cover? (Geddit?) Let us know in the comments!  Alternatively, follow us on Facebook or Twitter for all the latest updates...

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