Books

I judged the International Booker Prize shortlist by their covers

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Gary Ogden
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Big fan of judging things at face value, me. Biiiiiiiig fan. I look at people and instantly evaluate them, I pick the fizzy drink can that has the most garish label and I even once bought an album by a band I’d never heard of just because of the cover.

It turned out to be Cannibal Corpse, and it was terrible, obviously, so I took it back, but it didn’t teach me anything. Back to a complete and utter steadfast refusal to delve deeper than the immediate surface, thank you very much.

Naturally, this life-outlook also stretches to books. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if you can’t do that, what can you judge it by? I don’t have time to faff about, mate – stick a good cover on your book and I’ll read it. Put a bad one on and I’m going full Fahrenheit 451 on that piece of shit.

So, to the Man Booker International Prize: a big important award in the literature world. If your book wins this, it means it’s bloody good, well done. The shortlist for this year’s prize has just been announced, and I can tell you now: I know exactly which one is the best.

I haven’t read any of them and I haven’t the faintest jot what they’re about, but I’ve looked at all the covers and already judged them. Look:

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman

The great thing about this cover is that it’s so self-explanatory. You don’t need many pictures on the front, because the name of the book tells you exactly what to expect, which in this case is: a horse walking into a bar.

It’s obviously a comedy, because what they’ve done is take the classic “A man walks into a bar” gag set-up, but replaced the man with a horse. The character of the bartender is therefore a central lynchpin in this tale, complete with his thigh-slapper of a catchphrase: “Why the long face?”

It’s easily the shortest of all the books, at only 14 words, but it’s a banger. It’s such a shame then, that David Grossman has clearly plagarised the whole thing.

0/10, would not read.

Judas by Amos Oz

Yeah, probably not going to pick this one up, am I? Nothing going on really, so the book inside is clearly boring. It mentions that it’s won some big award which I’ve never heard of, and that it’s an international bestseller, both of which are full-on boasts if you ask me. Not keen on that.

It’s called Judas, so it’s about a traitor – cliché alert. It’s set in Paris, too, because that’s the Eiffel Tower inside the A on the front there, and all novels are set in Paris, basically, aren’t they? There’s a rouge shadow of the Eiffel Tower, too, which obviously doubles up as a metaphor for blood, so there’s a dash of murder thrown in.

French murder mystery, whoop-de-doo, standard pulp nonsense. Trying to disguise the bare-bones plot with a minimalist design isn’t fooling me, Mr Oz.

3/10 would not read.

Compass by Mathias Énard

This is a bit more like it: rockets. I love a good rocket, whether it’s a space one, an ice lolly one or an explosion one. This one looks to be some sort of mash up between a compass arrow and an explosion rocket, which is quite fancy, and it’s bursting through the clouds at great speed, showing how exciting the novel is.

Very exciting, in fact – lots of action, lots of flying and some nice clouds. Great greeney-blue colour scheme catches the eye, too.

It’s called Compass because the book concerns itself with directions a lot – not only are rockets unpredictable, but you also won’t know which way the BOOK is heading, either.

I like this book and if I saw it in whatever the book version of what Blockbusters was, I’d pick it up.

6/10 would read.

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen

I’m mighty intrigued by this number – spooooooky, isn’t it? Something’s hiding in that swamp, and you’re not gonna like what it is. With a name like The Unseen, it’s all very ominous – tread carefully, this is one terrifying tome.

I don’t want to ruin any twists or turns, so I won’t ruin what the big monster is that only comes out when the moon is full, but let’s just say it’s not not not NOT a werewolf.

Love me a good Point Horror book, which I think this is, so: 

7/10, would read.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal  by Dorthe Nors

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I’d massively reach for this one if I had the chance. It got me laughing straight away – that girl’s got her dress caught in the car door! Pah! The car’s gonna drive off in a minute and that slip is going to be flapping around like a stingray caught in a leaf blower. That’s funny stuff that. Comedy gold, you could say. Completely oblivious she is!

Also, good name: Mirror, Shoulder, Signal – it means some top-quality driving lesson banter will be getting all up in your grill if you open this rip-roaring page-turner. It’s easily as funny as an episode of Driving School or that film Happy-Go-Lucky, only it’s even more hilarious because she’s got her silly dress caught in the door! Doh!

Hahaha 8/10 would read!

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

This is the best book on the list. This is the winner of the International Man Booker Prize. Great stuff.

Such a striking cover: busy as all hell, fancy disruptive lettering, lots of scattered LPs and a goddamn horse, for flip’s sake. It’s clear to anyone looking at the cover what the book is about: it’s about a horse, obviously. That’s what a cover is supposed to do: tell you what’s happening inside the book. If you’re particularly lucky, it should just be a screenshot of a scene in the book, like so many classic horror movie covers.

This is clearly a screenshot from the part in the book where the horse gets trapped under all the records, which is one of the best bits.

Annoyingly, the only thing wrong with this cover is that the title almost explicity gives away the devastating last line in the book:

“And then I woke up and it was all a dream.”

Either way, 10 trapped horses out of ten, would read.

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Gary Ogden

Shortlist writer and "the least woke person in the office", Gary Ogden, likes horror movies, Cheestrings, tapping his leg under the desk, "having a drink", PDAs, not having eczema anymore, hiding from responsibility, screaming into the mirror whenever he is alone, and assorted other things. Mainly the eczema thing though. @garyblogden

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