A fascinating article in yesterday's Observer discussed the different covers given to the same book in different countries. I'm always fascinated too by the different covers given to different editions of the same book in the same country. In our reading group we often compare the covers on the different editions we bring to the meetings - it's so interesting to see not only the changing art-style fashions, but the way that different aspects of a novel are foregrounded at different times.
Inevitably, I've been thinking a lot about this matter as result of the reissue of The Birth Machine. Here's the original cover created by Hannah Firmin at a time when it was fashionable to commission paintings for book covers:
I didn't actually have any choice about it - I was just shown a black-and-white photocopy, nominally for my approval, but I didn't get the impression that I was expected to begin making alternative suggestions! However, I liked it, as I thought that the dominance of the black bird emphasised the surreal aspects of the novel, and I particularly liked the way it picked up the novel's motif of the detached head and the general division of the woman's body. Also the fact that she is inoculating herself (as she does in the novel on a psychological level). I was a bit upset, however, as were the Women's Press, when a Sunday supplement, running an article on their striking covers, pronounced this one 'aggressive', or some such phrase. The Women's Press held an exhibition of their original cover artwork, and I actually bought the original piece, and it hangs in my living room. It incorporates collage: the blue veins are made of tissue paper, and over the years they have faded, I'm afraid, and are no longer even visible in the original piece.
Here's the cover of the The Author's Cut edition, which I published later myself:
This was at a time when black-and-white photos had become newly fashionable for book covers, as was the simple split-page design - both lucky for me, as I was both paying for it all and designing the cover myself, and although it really wasn't that long ago, desktop publishing, as it was called, was basically in its infancy - and digital photography hadn't taken off and few people had desktop scanners - I had to travel in to Manchester to get the photo scanned from a hard copy onto a floppy disk! Because this edition was intended to restore the theme of the control and ownership of knowledge which I felt had been pushed out by the previous editing, I eschewed the explicit birth image of the first cover, and opted for an image incorporating the bird and the medical chart, which I hoped illustrated the power of nature to snatch scientific control away from us.
And now here's the image which Salt have come up with for the forthcoming edition:
I must say I was shocked by it at first, but quickly decided that that was good. As Jen at Salt said: 'The title's shocking anyway.' Frankly, to begin with I didn't even know what the scary-looking chair was, and neither did some other people I showed it to: even when you have a baby you don't see the obstetric chair you're having it on, as it's discreetly covered with sheets! What I like about this cover is that it's rather Brave-New-Worldy, both in its slightly retro style and the satirical air carried by the colour scheme and the clouds above. The image thus foregrounds the satirical aspects of the novel which I feel were somewhat suppressed in the first edition. And that gives me a really great feeling...