The sunny side of Camus

If the look of a new book containing two essays by the author Albert Camus is anything to go by, Penguin seem to be embarking on a subtle repositioning of the Algerian-born absurdist

If the look of a new book containing two essays by the author Albert Camus is anything to go by, Penguin seem to be embarking on a subtle repositioning of the Algerian-born absurdist…

Typically, Camus’ output has been shrouded in fairly bleak photography of isolated figures (see The Outsider or The Rebel from Penguin’s most recent series, below, and The Fall), or the odd illustrated metaphor – from a scythe for his book The Plague; to an enormous boulder for The Myth of Sisyphus.

The most recent Penguin Camus series, designed by Angus Hyland (image: Theo Inglis)

But with The Sea Close By, a 27-page publication that introduces Penguin Classics’ relaunch of the novelist and playwright’s works for his centenary this year, the direction is anything but dark.

On the cover there’s a sun, a boat and a line of blue for the sea, effortlessly sketched by illustrator Alice Charbin. And on the back, the sun reappears as a ‘Camus Centenary’ logo – “100 years!” it says.

Of course, while book covers are designed to entice new readers – often hinting at the subject matter or themes within a book – they are themselves ultimately subjective readings of its contents. For one reader/designer, a book’s sentiments may be more positive; for another, more negative.

The subjects of the two essays that make up the new Camus booklet, The Sea Close By and Summer in Algiers, are light and meditative in nature, but it’s still interesting to see a cover deviating from the accepted standards of what Camus ‘looks like’.

For Charbin, she saw an opportunity under the editorial direction of Alexis Kirschbaum, “to convey [Camus’] great humanity and clarity of thought, as well as the warmth and light of the country he loved”.

Bleak but funny. Cover designed by Mother. Photography by Jacob Sutton with styling by Gary Card

The works of Franz Kafka are a good example here, too – as covers for his books have differed greatly in terms of those that position the writer as a dark and foreboding presence; while others are keen to tap into and reference his satirical, surreal humour (Gary Card’s sculptures were used in a photographic Penguin series, above).

US designer Peter Mendelsund decided on the latter when he created a series of covers for Pantheon books in 2011, which we featured on the CR blog.

Covers by Peter Mendelsund for Pantheon

While the image of the eye is dominant throughout the series, “I also opted for colour,” Mendelsund wrote in a post detailing the project. “It needs saying that Kafka’s books are, among other things, funny, sentimental, and in their own way, yea-saying. I am so weary of the serious Kafka, the pessimist Kafka. ‘Kafkaesque’ has become synonymous with the machinations of anonymous bureaucracy – but, of course, Kafka was a satirist (ironist, exaggerator) of the bureaucratic, and not an organ of it.

“Because of this mischaracterisation, Kafka’s books have a tendency to be jacketed in either black, or in some combination of colours I associate with socialist realism, constructivism, or fascism – ie black, beige and red. Part of the purpose of this project for me, was to let some of the sunlight back in.”

The new editions of Camus’ works are set to be published in October; for now, those covers are under wraps, but Penguin say they will feature the work of a host of different photographers.

Whether that means they’ll be drawn to the darkness or to the light, we’ll see in a couple of month’s time.

The Sea Close By is out now published by Penguin Classics; £1.99. Penguin Classics will publish The Outsider, A Happy Death, Caligula and Other Plays, Exile and the Kingdom, The Fall, The First Man, The Plague and The Rebel on October 31.

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