Blackwell’s cover review: “The Book of Joan” by Lidia Yuknavitch
This book was reviewed (for the Inky Tentacle) by Blackwell’s bookseller Aleida Gómez de Caso in Oxford
When I first saw The Book of Joan in the shop I had to pick it up. It was by the till, marked as a recommendation by a fellow bookseller, who pointed out that I was not the only buyer struck by the cover. They say ¨you should never judge a book by its cover,¨ but this one is not just a stunning piece of art, it also represents the book well.
The actual Book of Joan in this book is written on human flesh, the last expression of the self that humans can resort to in this dystopian future where the story is set. After abusing the planet and its resources, humans find the Earth inhospitable and it can no longer be “home” for our species anymore. What´s left of humanity suffers from devolution and, as in Margaret Atwood´s famous dystopia, human´s reproductive systems deteriorate, in this occasion to the extreme point of losing our organs and not being able to procreate at all. Part of what remains of our species follows a totalitarian leader into space whilst the rest try to survive on the decaying planet.
The book is an ode to nature and art. In a world where there the wonders of nature do not exist, and the design of the new world makes other forms of art such as architecture or painting impossible, humans turn to their own bodies to express themselves and create entertainment.
Through skin extension and tattooing, they narrate entire stories on their bodies as well as graphs and symbols. They get rid of clothes and these tattoos cover their decaying bodies, replacing both fashion and social status.
For this reason, I found “The Book of Joan” has a cover that you appreciate twice, for you´ll understand more to it after reading the book. When I first saw it the famous image of the German sci-fi movie Metropolis came to me, and I wondered if the book would also be set in a scarily technological dystopian future. It was, and furthermore I enjoyed the idea of that perfect world living above and slaving the resources of the one underneath, used in Metropolisand so many other fearful projections of the human future.
I also enjoyed the patterns around the V shape of the cover, which after reading the book evoke the almost alien graphs that humans tattoo on their bodies in the story, and reminded me of matter and biological composition as well, for they follow a pattern or structure like chemical elements do. I also appreciate how the typography manages to be at the same time trendy and “alien” looking, effect achieved by changing the shape of the letter “A”.
The colour, not so commonly used in book covers, is striking and modern like the story. The Book of Joan is not only a science fiction book, it tackles gender, sexuality, the human condition and makes relevant reference to climate change, human cruelty or animal experimentation. So this is very much a book of our times and the coming generation, that represents the troubles and ideas that are currently being discussed.
Whether intended by the artist or not, I also associate the cover with totalitarianism, so present in the story. Partly because of the god like look of the one figure at the centre, with its hands shaping a crown; and the Earth and stars above her are shaped into a military style hat. The piece is in line with other Florian Schommer works, like the designs for Mantar and Henfen, beer brands that also benefit from his pattern-like graphs and iconography.
The Book of Joan is a stunning and thought provoking piece of work both outside and inside, worth reading, if possible next to a green area to remind you we are still in time to fight for our planet.
The Book of Joan was Designed by Rafaela Romaya and Illustrated by Florian Schommer