Weekend links 332


Suspiria (2012) by Jessica Seamans.

Matthew Sperling on Tom Phillips’ “treated Victorian novel” A Humument, which he calls “a multimedia masterpiece”. Phillips’ sixth and final edition of the book is published by Thames & Hudson next month.

Strange Flowers on Monsieur de Bougrelon (1897), a short novel by Jean Lorrain which will be published next month by Spurl Editions. The book is currently on my to-be-read-next pile.

Theodore Carter finds images of skulls by artists through the ages. I’d have included Giacometti’s almost abstract Head-Skull (1934) or his sketch of 1923.

• The horror stories of EF Benson contain “enough nastiness to give you just the right kind of frisson for the time of year,” says Nicholas Lezard.

• Covers for One, an American magazine of the 50s and 60s dedicated to “the homosexual viewpoint”.

Kelly Sullivan takes a close look at the illustrations and stained-glass work of the great Harry Clarke.

• Lost Moomins cartoon strips will be shown in the first UK Tove Jansson exhibition.

• The extravagant homes of Ludwig II of Bavaria are in urgent need of restoration.

• Mix of the week: The Nine Ten Never Sleep Again Mix by The Curiosity Pipe.

Ténéré Tàqqàl (what has become of the Ténéré), a new song by Tinariwen.

• The King of Weird: Joyce Carol Oates on HP Lovecraft.

• Charting the legacy of cult 1970s band, Big Star.

Falling (1992) by Miranda Sex Garden | Inferno (Version II) (1993) by Miranda Sex Garden | Peep Show (1994) by Miranda Sex Garden

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


Penguin, 2009. Photo by Lisa Johansson.

Having recently re-read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959) I thought it was about time I read her final novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962), and I’m very pleased that I did. I was less pleased, however, with the cover of the current edition from Penguin which, like many of the recent Penguin Classics, aspires to a kind of evasive blandness. There are recurrent problems in designing covers for books of exceptional quality: the more the writing opens itself to interpretation, and refuses to be easily categorised, the greater the challenge of finding a single design or image which might represent the book. It’s this that leads literary novels, classics especially, down the road of the text-only cover.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle may be of exceptional quality but it’s also very strange, dark and disturbing, something which the Penguin cover does little to communicate. The opening paragraph doesn’t match the justly celebrated opening of The Haunting of Hill House but it still sets out its stall in no uncertain terms:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

Merricat (as her sister calls her) neglects to mention that they live with one other member of the family, Uncle Julian, a wheelchair-bound survivor of an unresolved poisoning that killed the rest of the family six years earlier. Julian devotes himself to obsessively writing an account of that fatal day while Constance works equally obsessively in the kitchen of the house they share. Mary does little except run errands to the nearby village (whose populace she hates and fears), and play outdoors with her cat, Jonas. Mary is the focus of the novel, a character as painfully introverted as Eleanor in Hill House but with more self-possession and some dangerous obsessions of her own. Joyce Carol Oates in the afterword to the current Penguin edition calls her a witch, which she is in a very diffuse sense. She protects the house with objects that she turns into charms, buries other significant objects, and selects words at random which she believes will protect her. Unlike Hill House there’s nothing at all supernatural in We Have Always Lived in the Castle but Merricat successfully predicts that change is going to disrupt the happily insular household which it does with the arrival of boorish cousin Charles.


First edition, Viking Press, 1962.

What’s notable for me when looking at earlier cover designs is seeing how much more successful the original covers are compared to later editions. The drawing of Jonas on the jacket of the first edition is suitably wary and even baleful, as Merricat is where strangers are concerned. The lurching, uneven script reflects the skewed lives of the novel’s characters. The cover could have been the work of Merricat herself.


Popular Library, 1963. Illustration by William Teason.

And it’s Merricat who appears on the first paperback edition. I tend to disapprove of the depiction of central characters on book covers but this addresses the challenge brilliantly: the wild hair, the suspicious eye, the charred wood (there is a fire in the second half of the book), and the spikes which give her cat-like ears.

Continue reading “We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson”

New work: Two forms of darkness


Darkness: half-title page.

I’m still behind with site updates but here are two recent design jobs come to cast a shadow over the summer. Darkness is another fiction anthology from Tachyon, edited by Ellen Datlow and subtitled Two Decades of Modern Horror. Ann Monn’s cover design has a snake writhing through shadow so I carried the serpentine motif into the interior design. The book runs to 478 pages and, as the title implies, features lots of big names including Clive Barker, Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King.


Darkness: title spread.


Dark Matter, on the other hand, is a double-CD compilation of singles from Bristol’s Multiverse label which is released this month. If you need a descriptor then many of the tracks here would be classed as dubstep, and a few are doomy enough to serve as soundtracks for urban horror. Skream is one of the featured artists, and his Trapped In A Dark Bubble on Tectonic’s Plates 2 collection (which I designed last year) has a great sinister ambience.


The design is very minimal with silver ink on a matt black digipak. The label requested graphics that mixed esoteric symbols with references to modern physics or astronomy without any of the allusions being too specific as to their origin or meaning. For the fonts I used the Fell types which take the design back to grimoires and old manuscripts.