A few years ago I picked up a non-fiction book about a serial killer in Paris during WWll, a respected and outwardly respectable doctor responsible for betraying and murdering Jewish families trying to escape from the Nazis. True crime is a genre that interests me, and I found the book well-researched and well-written. As a result I began corresponding with the author and although we’ve never met in the flesh, we formed a ‘virtual’ friendship based on mutual interests – France, Paris, literature, food and history.
Romance is not a genre I care for (in books!), but I was curious to see how Marilyn switched from non-fiction to fiction in her first novel, and was surprised to find that I enjoyed Bella, which is not a fluffy romp at all, but quite dark and gripping. Great cover, too.
Now her second novel (third book, second novel) has been published, one I’ve been looking forward to because I know her passion for her subject and how much has gone into the writing of this romance/drama set in Stalin’s Soviet Union, an era I’m interested in.
If I’d seen a paperback of this book in any shop I would never have touched it, but as I do most of my reading on my Kindle, I bought a digital copy from Amazon. Happily my old Kindle doesn’t show the covers, because this one is just – I can’t think of a word that sums up how awful it is – maybe ‘Unpickupable’? If this lurid, amateurish cover is any indication of the content, I really wouldn’t want to know.
Fortunately, I can confirm that it isn’t. For the Love of a Poet is, as the title implies, a love story set against the backdrop of Uncle Joe Stalin’s Russia, a country in the grip of deprivation and fear, where people can disappear without warning, and pandemics are described as nothing more that ‘minor outbreaks of flu.’
The writing draws you into the lives of the lovers and recreates the nerve-wracking atmosphere of living under the Stalinist regime. It’s one of those books that once you start reading, you don’t want to put down. While I very much enjoyed Marilyn’s two previous books, I think this one really is her chef-d’oeuvre – a true masterpiece.
Although as I have said, I’ve never met the author, I feel that we know each other well enough to be frank, and that she is confident enough to accept criticism, so I wrote and told her I thought the cover was horrible beyond description. It turns out that so does she, but it is out of her hands; it is what her publisher has chosen and it seems she’s stuck with it. She has received numerous messages, similar to mine.
Having a contract with a publisher is all well and good, but if their strategy is working against you, what good does it do?
Here is the cover in question:
I am going to nominate it as the ugliest cover I’ve seen for as long as I can remember. What a pity, the book is such a tremendous read, but how many people who don’t know that would actually pick it up? Sinister red/black, intensely ugly font, hammer and sickle, bizarrely placed, weirdly proportioned face, and where on earth is the poet?
Comments very welcome. Maybe you think the cover is OK? Maybe you’ve seen one you think is even worse?