‘A marvellous entry in this excellent series, one of those books that  you have to keep reading but hate to finish. Highly recommended.’ [Stage Fright]


Judging a book by its cover

UnknownI was thrilled when my friend Moira over at gave me a copy of this splendid book which brings together Tom Adams’s original cover designs for Agatha Christie’s novels. They are works of art in their own right. If I am looking to buy a second-hand paperback of an Agatha Christie, I always prefer one with an Adams cover. My copy of The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side has the one that is featured here on the dust jacket and I think it is one of the very best of his designs. It inspired me to reread the novel (a late Miss Marple with a dazzingly original motive for murder!).

Moira’s gift set me thinking how important book covers are – and how few really good and memorable ones there are these days. The current Christie covers are pretty insipid, though perhaps by now she is so famous that it doesn’t really matter.

Authors do not have the final say, readers may be surprised to know. Though publishers do generally want their authors to be happy, untimately it is the marketing team who will judge what is most likely to sell the book. And it is not a neutral thing: a bad cover can actually deter a reader. I dislike covers which feature seductive women who have nothing to do with the plot and it has put me off buying one particular series.

I have been lucky with Lion Fiction, my current publishers, and with St Martin’s Press, a little less so with Hale. Perhaps it is because of my background as an art historian, but it really matters to me what a book looks like, and I have been known to buy the US edition of Andrea Camilleri’s novels rather than the UK ones because I prefer the covers.

I’d be interested to know how important it is to other readers. Do you judge a book by its cover? Any that you think are stunningly successful?

A bit of cross-blogging

51mt8Lyd5UL._AC_US160_Once again my good blogfriend Moira (at and I are indulging in a bit of cross-blogging, in which we choose a book for both of us to read and put up a post about it on the same day. This time it is Happy Ending by Italian writer, Francesca Duranti (1987), also the book most recently chosen by the wonderful multi-national book group to which I belong. This post owes something to an illuminating discussion that we had earlier in the week and I’d like to thank the group for so much reading pleasure and friendship over the years.

The setting of Happy Ending is an estate in the countryside outside Lucca, and the time is a midsummer week-end sometime in the 1980s. There are three houses: the matriarch Violante lives in one, her son Leopoldo who is in a sexless marriage with his rich American wife, Cynthia, lives in another. The third is empty, waiting for the summer visit of Lavinia who was married to Violante’s older son, Filippo. Their brief and disastrous marriage was cut short twenty years ago by Filippo’s death and their son, Nicola, has been raised by Violante. The family are all observed by their friend and neighbour, Aldo, who has always been in love with Lavinia, who in her turn has been infatuated by a series of awful men. All the characters are blocked in some way and then a young man, a friend of Nicola’s, arrives . . .

IMG_9258What I enjoyed most about this book was the setting: the houses, the garden, the drowsy midsummer heat, which made me long to go back to Italy. I wasn’t so keen on the characters and I found Lavinia in particular very irritating. And when late in the novel Violante remarks, ‘I have ruled like a czarina, and now they are all good-for-nothing,’ I really had to agree. That summed up my feeling about these privileged, mostly idle, people. But maybe that is to take too seriously what is really a comedy in which, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, and The Marriage of Figaro, everything in the end is magically resolved.

And I did like Aldo and the account of how as a poverty-striken fourteen year old at the end of the war he wandered into a neglected estate and spied on a party of rich and glamorous people. This enchanting experience inspired his career as a forger of paintings and then as a successful art historian (sadly my own career as an art historian hasn’t enabled me to live in fortified house near Lucca. Something must have gone wrong somewhere). And there was a nice little twist at the end which I enjoyed. To sum up: wonderful setting, some excellent writing, but not entirely my kind of novel.

So what did Moira make of it? I long to know and will add a link when her post is up.

Here it is! Fascinated to find that this time we were not quite in agreement:

These glorious photos came via Moira from PerryPhotography. One is of the countryside outside Lucca, and the one of the house and garden is reproduced by kind permission of the owners, K & T Wynn. My thanks to them and to PerryPhotography.

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