Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Remains of the Day cover analysis

Here are the cover pages and commentary for five editions of the novel that I found online. They are all simply designed, with only one image and monochromatic tones (or nearly so). I found more covers for The Remains of the Day, but they were either really small and obscure files, or their legitimacy was questionable. I think this is an interesting and useful exercise to see how publishers market the novel based on their impressions or the impressions they think an audience would have. I may not want to judge a book by its cover, but who says that I shouldn’t consider the cover as part of the novel’s overall aesthetic?

1. Black cover: “York Notes Advanced”

Small picture at the top, cropped really awkwardly so that we are not focussed on the person (presumably, Stevens) but on what he is doing or looking at. This emphasis, similar to a traditional understanding of English stoicism, highlights the occupation and environment as opposed to the person.

Audience for students because of publication series labeled on the front.

2. Class cover: “Vintage International”

Large, sepia image, also blurry and contrasty so we don’t see the details as much as the mood or atmosphere. There are no people, so again, focus is on the occupation and environment instead of the individual.

This is the edition our class has, but with a sepia-toned award seal that reads, “Winner of the Booker Prize.” The seal, vintage publishing, and focus on the author’s name (in bold at the top) cater to a literary audience or Ishiguro fans.

3. Clock cover: “Faber and Faber 1989”

More of a traditional appeal with the old-fashioned English pocket watch. It’s a Western ideal of symbolism because there is no relevant watch in the book, so the purpose is to evoke a feeling or a time. The font is also traditional, as well as the red dash which is like an award ribbon in the corner.

The Booker Prize is displayed for those who like traditional and reviewed novels about old Britain.

4. Dandelion cover: “Faber and Faber 1999”

The close-up image of the Dandelion seeds blowing in the wind evoke the calmness of the country and a sense of movement. Since it’s not stagnant, it represents change and the passage of time.

It has a quotation on the bottom to offer a good review and target the audience in Britain.

5. Geometric man cover: “Key Porter Books”

Just like the others, this cover has similar warm-tones, but the calmness of these tones is counteracted by the rigidity of the image. While it depicts a person (probably Stevens), it is a caricature of him – not a realistic but an artistic interpretation similar to Picasso’s style (also relevant because of Picasso’s popularity during that time).

It not only mentions the Booker Prize, but also the “Major Motion Picture” and a quotation by another reputable author as selling-features of the novel’s worthiness and/or popularity.

Conclusions? That these images are as minimal as possible and mainly focus on occupation, place, or time instead of a character portrayal. It might just be the publisher's preference for symbolism... what do you think?



skram said...

Perhaps because Stevens is such a complex character, the publishers chose more abstract symbolic elements to evoke tone and feeling rather than direct characterization. In this way, the reader has more freedom to interpret Stevens throughout the novel without preconceptions from the cover. The colour palettes are related as well, and evoke the English setting in varied, but related ways.

Thanks for this post Mel, it demonstrates how the text has evolved as it has gained popularity, but shows the connectivity as well.


skram said...

An interesting way to look at the book, Mel! It hadn’t occurred to me before how much the cover of a book can affect the stance we take in reading it. A clear image of Stevens or Darlington Hall probably would encourage the reader to evaluate the book in terms of its realism, as a fictional autobiography. Instead these covers alert the reader to be on the lookout for symbolism and a greater depth of meaning.

I also wanted to note how the placement of the award seal on our class’ copy of the book changed my interpretation of the cover. The fact that the seal obscures one arm and the bottom half of the chair, the mug and part of the table meant that I never realised at the time of our class what the picture was meant to be! I also think our copy also has less distinction between light and dark. This cover seems to emphasise the contemplative element to the story, whereas our cover emphasises the ambiguity and lack of internal resolution to Stevens’ journey.


skram said...

I stumbled upon M.G. Harris's website (the author of the Children's book seriesThe Joshua Files), and she has an interesting blog entry on her love of Murakami and how this love influences her books.

This relates to this post, because the image for this entry is a collage of Norwegian Wood cover art. I think this caught my eye not only because I plan to enter the world of children's publishing myself one day, but also because it shows the stark contrast of the covers for this book. It would be very interesting to sort these covers by audience, translation and year. There seems to be a division in this series of covers, with some exemplifying the crucial design technique of white space and minimalist graphics, while others focus in on portrait shots. Could this be a nod to the Eastern/Western markets?


skram said...

Krista, I agree about the placement of the seal... I mentioned it because it also made a difference for me when looking at the cover.

Angela, thanks for the link to the blog with the Murakami covers. I like that collage a lot. It occured to me when organizing this post, that I could comment on the year of publication, but I didn't find it relevant - only with the two Faber and Faber covers as a direct comparison.