To peek or not to peek?

I’m writing today about the phenomenon of author’s pictures in books. Some books have them, some do not. Most commonly if there is one, the headshot will be nestled on the inside cover at the end of the book.

Why do I care about this? Good question. It might seem a rather innocuous subject at first glance but the truth is, the decision to cast one’s eyes over a book’s author before you read said book is a critical one with potentially far reaching consequences.

An example. I am reading a  book at the moment and a few nights ago, in a fleeting moment of sheer bravado and impulsiveness, I found myself flicking to the back cover to check out the face of the man from whose mind the words I had been reading came. 

Fortunately the smiling face looking back at me was bland, inoffensive and wholly unremarkable. But let’s not beat about the bush here. If for example, I had turned to a black and white side on photo of a smouldering middle-ager with one too many buttons undone on his shirt, the whole feel of the book would be turned on its head. During key moments, I would not be able to get his almost certainly smarmy and self satisfied expression in certain moments out of my head. Or if I glimpsed a beady eyed woman with a smile so disingenuous and poisonous that I felt like clapping the cover down upon her face, I would be forced to continue reading dialogue in her imagined whine.

To be clear, this is my problem. I’m one of those people that avoid watching TV shows or films based upon books close to my heart for fear of forever disturbing and altering irreperably the imagined status quo built up within my mind. It stands to reason therefore that I should also prefer the generic unspoilt prose of a book without any additonal preconceptions of the person sitting there writing it down on a laptop or a pad. When I’m reading a book, rather than perceiving it via the imagined voice of its narrator or its architect, I prefer my guide through the text to be incognito. 

My only advice is that, should you ever consider risking a peek in the future, you must consider the pitfalls and consequences. To visualise an author is a dangerous thing.

Brazzaville Beach

William Boyd’s writing style is so unique and identifiable. He is a real master at being concise and seems somehow able to inject x factor into even the most innocuous activities of his characters. That notwithstanding, the story here is excellent and follows Hope Clearwater, who is beautifully characterised via a no holds barred account of her life. The novel interchanges two periods of her life throughout the book. One with her hopelessly doomed marriage to a physicist in England and another tracking chimpanzees in Africa. Brutal, moving, thrilling and philosophical – Boyd never disappoints. 

One Medicine

I picked this up on a whim at Hay literature festival. Only short, so it can be read in a day or so. The premise is an interesting one – the idea that human and animal medicine have a huge overlap and adaptations animals have made to the world around them have a huge application in human medicine. 

The first half of the book seemed to stray a little from the core premise of the book to me and at times it was a little self indulgent, dare I say a bit melodramatic. But there is almost a palpable shift half way through (almost from dusk till dawnesque) in which the book really begins to delve into interesting medical trivia and genuinely intriguing information concerning the overlaps in animal and human physiology. When it does return to the more personal storytelling at the end, the melodrama is gone and the closing thoughts are genuinely quite moving.

Murder on Lake Garda

The third book from Tom Hindle who I’ve come to realise is relatively local to me! Never met him though. I loved his first, thought his second was rather mundane, but I’m pleased to say his third is a return to form. While it still doesn’t quite reach the level A Fatal Crossing reached, this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through through a murderous Italian wedding. He paints a beautiful picture of the grotesque nature of spoilt rich people and, although the solution at the heart of the mystery is not too difficult to guess, it still provides a lot of fun. It’s a bit like a feature length episode of Death in Paradise – which in my eyes is a good thing.

A Colder War

I have enjoyed some of Charles Cumming’s other spy novels and enjoyed the first of the series that features MI6 agent Thomas Kell. While there are hints of Cumming’s later written efficiency, this book always felt a bit hollow – like a Spanish villa that ran out of funding before it was completed. The book doesn’t really do much other than display some procedural intrigue while the ending is abrupt and feels unfinished. It was written some time ago and as far as I’m aware, there have been no others in the series leading me to believe he abandoned the franchise. I think probably that was a good idea. The main character was a bit mundane. Enjoyable enough read though.