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Evaluating The Women’s Prize Longlist by their Book Covers: Part 1

By Maisie Jane Garvin, Beccy Fish, Giulia Caparrelli and Juliette Tulloch

The longlist for The Women’s Prize for fiction was announced earlier this month. With sixteen incredible novels included and a vast range of diverse authors, we have dedicated the next two issues to delve into their magical covers….

Released in May last year, The Bread the Devil Knead by Lisa Allen-Agostini is the beautiful tale of Alethea Lopez, who, at forty years old, decides to break free from her abusive partner and decides who she truly wants to be. The cover design is remarkable, and the sketch of the woman symbolically represents a woman putting herself back together piece by piece. The vibrancy of her outfit immerses one into the protagonist's Trinidadian voice.

Published only in February of this year, Rachel Elliott’s Flamingo has made the longlist. Elliott’s other publication, Whispers Through a Megaphone was also longlisted for the prize in 2016. With a dual timeline, set between 2018 and the 1980s at its core, it is a novel about the power of love. The cover is certainly unmissable with its bright blue background contrasting with the flock of flamingos, perhaps there to represent a family. The sketches of the houses are a subtle feature and serve to highlight the theme of acceptance within this stunning novel.

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak follows two teens' secret meetings at the taverna on the island they call home, hidden by the fig tree that grows through the roof. The fig tree which swirls through the middle symbolises its importance in the lives of Kostas and Defne, as a connection to their home and a token of their relationship. The colour palette which has a tropical tone emits the atmosphere of the island, with the inky blue in the background representing the darker themes of the novel such as the war, and secrets Ada tries to untangle later in the story.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev cover masterfully captures the novel's tone. Written by Dawnie Walton it is the story of talented, independent punk artist Opal and her rise to fame in New York in the seventies, alongside singer-songwriter Neville. The guitar silhouette depicts the theme of music at the core of the story, alongside a reflection of Opal’s face. The names Opal and Nev within the title are the most prominent typography, demonstrating how this novel is very character driven, and the dusty, older colour palette illustrates the vintage time period.

Following on from our article Book Design Trends in 2022, it is no surprise that some of this year's longlist feature photography. Catherine Chidgey’s Remote Sympathy follows this trend of contrasting titles and monochrome photography, as seen on successful works Shuggie Bain and The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. In Remote Sympathy, Frau Han’s husband, an SS Administrator, moves them next to a concentration camp where she forms a friendship with a prisoner, Dr Leber described as a “tour de force about the evils of obliviousness."It is clear the cover design’s boldness and shadows compliment the story well, with Frau Han’s silhouette and reflection alluding to a sense of ideological growth.

Meg Mason’s debut novel Sorrow and Bliss uncovers long-term mental illness and misdiagnosis around the character forty-year-old Martha. The cover design’s subtle hints and play with colour are a sophisticated depiction of Martha’s inner turmoil. The shades of blue and yellow, associated with sadness and happiness, clash to draw the reader in. Cleverly positioned with her face hidden and with the looming title and its reviews above her, the figure reveals a woman steeped in an identity crisis. However, the subtle rays of light emanating onto her dress hint to resolution and hope within Martha’s journey.

Violet Kupersmith’s Build Your House Around My Body follows the lives of two young women that go missing decades apart from one another. Drawing from Vietnamese history and folklore, the author slowly uncovers how these two women’s fates are mysteriously connected. As the cover exemplifies, the characters move through convoluted environments, from Vietnamese forests, inhabited by strange creatures, to neglected zoos and crowded nightclubs. The colours are vibrant and the illustrations luscious, echoing the hypnotic and lyric writing style and the vivid descriptions. Its haunting mood is a perfect match to the eerie story.

Finally, Careless by Kirsty Capes charts the difficult coming of age of fifteen-year-old Bess. Written with empathy and humour, Capes brilliantly discusses what it means to grow up in foster care, what love really is, and how to be a good friend. The cover has a modern feel with its stylized illustrations and san serif typeface; the young protagonist is struggling, and the multi-colour background appears to be adding to the disorientation, offering no stability, but only very similar colour shades. She will have to learn how to discern and navigate her confusing feelings.



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