UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES
Satiated readers! Please join me in getting excited again about The Possessed, in honor of next week’s UK launch! Conveniently, the book now looks completely different. I thought I would never like any cover as much as Roz Chast’s FSG paperback - but check out the new Granta hardcover, designed byMichael Salu:
I love the original paperback, because it’s so scary and cheap, two of my favorite qualities. But I also love the new hardcover, because it’s so trippy and classy, two more of my favorite qualities.
The new cover illustration is based on the dream sequence in “Who Killed Tolstoy?”:
I dreamed I was playing tennis against Tolstoy. As Alice in Wonderland plays croquet with a flamingo for a mallet, I was playing tennis with a goose for a racket. Lev Nikolayevich had a normal racket. I served the ball, producing a flurry of fluffy gray down. Tolstoy’s mighty backhand projected the ball far beyond the outermost limits of the tennis lawn, into the infinite dimension of total knowledge and human understanding. Match point.
It is, as Salu explains, “a dual cover, with either Elif or Tolstoy winning the rally depending on how the book is held”:
The decorative border is actually made up of drawings of different people and entities mentioned in the book. I really couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this. I felt like it was my birthday.
There is Isaac Babel and his rubber duck (along with, I think, a Mongol warrior):
There is Eeyore in a tiger suit/ the Registan in Samarkand:
Even the Opel with the canoe on top!
Salu’s overall design was inspired by “prerevolutionary Russian books”:
It’s great the prerevolutionary cut-off wasn’t taken too literally, because that way there was room for Andrei Bely and Lenin.
Next week I will be on a brief tour in Oxford, London, and Galway. I’m doing a panel with Geoff Dyer at the Cúirt International Festival of Literature, and a Royal Festival Hall talk with Pavel Basinsky (who recently won the Big Book prize for a fantastic-sounding book about Tolstoy). There’s a mesmerizing web page for the festival event, with one of those alternating images – way beyond my html skills, but just imagine an eternal slideshow of these two pictures:
Regarding which, I leave you with the following from my UK publicist:
There is a very famous spoof history of England called 1066 and All That. For the section that explains the Civil War there is simply a cartoon of a Cavalier with long hair like a spaniel and fancy boots and a magnificent floppy hat next to an austere puritan Roundhead. The caption below simply says: “under these circumstances…”1
I sort of feel that way when I look at the picture of you with your vegetable and Pavel looking all cross.
- “Charles I was a Cavalier King and therefore had a small pointed beard, long flowing curls, a large, flat, flowing hat, and gay attire. The Roundheads, on the other hand, were clean-shaven and wore tall, conical hats, white ties, and sombre garments. Under these circumstances a Civil War was inevitable.” ↩