Ireland: A Nation of Storytellers


The art of storytelling is firmly rooted in Ireland’s culture. With an innate ability to paint a vivid picture using prose and a rich, interesting social and political history, it’s no wonder some of the world’s most renowned writers hail from Ireland. From Oscar Wilde and W.B Yeats to modern favourites like Marian Keyes and Cecelia Ahern, the Emerald Isle has produced an abundance of great writing talent.

To celebrate this nation of storytellers, we’ve taken 6 iconic 20th-century Irish novels and re-imagined their covers, giving them a reboot for the 21st century. This series looks at some of Ireland’s most famous fiction and brings these captivating and compelling stories bang up to date with modern, minimalist visualisation.

Redesigning the Irish Classics

For this suite of images, we wanted to capture the essence of some iconic stories, staying true to the subject matter and elevating the key characters where possible. Through our visual treatment, we have modernised the covers and made them more relevant for present-day readers.

We have used isolated graphical elements that tell each compelling story without giving too much away. This is juxtaposed with bold colours, subtle gradients and tactile textures, providing a contemporary feel. For the titles, a clean and simple sans-serif font (a letterform which does not have extending features at the end) complements the uncluttered visuals.

A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce

James Joyce is considered one of the most significant novelists of the early 20th century. His first novel, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, established a ‘stream of consciousness’ style that was later adopted by many modern authors. A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man is a semi-autobiographical story inspired by Joyce’s evolution into adulthood and rebellion against Catholic and Irish conventions.

Our stripped-back cover shows the world from the artist’s perspective in the same way Joyce’s unique style of writing does. Contrasting visuals within the glasses represent his spiritual and physical journey through enlightenment.

Molloy

Samuel Beckett

Irish novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett was heavily inspired by James Joyce’s style. Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 and is widely regarded as one of the finest writers of the 20th century. Spilt into 2 parts, Molloy, appears to tell the tale of 2 main characters: the eponymous Molloy, an ailing vagrant on a mad journey, and Moran, a dour detective tasked with tracking him down. Bizarre and at times bleak, the narrative of the 2 men begins to sound similar, leading readers to believe that the 2 characters are, in fact, 2 different personalities in the same person.

This bold and striking design captures the close relationship between the characters of Molloy and Moran, played as one, and their opposite personalities. Light and shade is used for dramatic effect, giving the visual a dark edge.

The Last September

Elizabeth Bowen

The 20th century saw an increase in so-called ‘Big-House’ novels in Irish literature. Set in the grand residences of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy these novels looked at the demise of these estates during the Irish revolutionary period. The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen focuses on one such estate, Danielstown, and its inhabitants as they try to preoccupy themselves with frivolous social niceties in troubling times. Inspired by summers Bowen spent in her family’s historic country house in Kildorrery, The Last September is a personal and realistic tale.

Our cover artwork juxtaposes the everyday ceremony of drinking tea and socialising with the dark and omnipresent danger of the Irish War of Independence. While the elegant cup and saucer is the main focus, the steam rising from the cup takes the form of soldiers, showing that the war is never far from people’s minds.

The Book of Evidence

John Banville

Based on the real life case of Malcom Edward MacArthur, The Book of Evidence focuses on Freddie Montgomery, an unreliable narrator who returns to Ireland after several years away looking for money to pay off a debt acquired abroad. Much to his shock, his mother has sold the family’s art collection, and in an attempt to reclaim it, he finds himself embroiled in all sorts of trouble, including killing a maid and hiding out at a family friend’s home. The Book of Evidence won Ireland’s Guinness Peat Aviation Award in 1989 and was shortlisted for Britain’s Booker Prize.

Banville is known for his distinctive style and elaborate imagination, and our redesigned cover reflects this. The use of the frame has a dual purpose: it represents the painting that caused the sinister and bloody sequence of events, as well as visually framing the main themes of the story, giving readers a taste of what is to come.

The Country Girls

Edna O’Brien

The Country Girls, the debut novel by Edna O’Brien, is a classic Irish coming of age story set in the 1950s, following the Second World War. Two young friends leave their convent school in the Irish countryside and embark on a journey to the big city where they learn about life, love and sex. The Country Girls was banned by Irish censors on account of its sexual content, but was heralded for breaking the silence on sexual matters and social issues in Ireland during this time.

The simple female silhouettes, head to head, on our reimagined cover for The Country Girls captures the tension between the two friends in the novel, and the challenges they face on their journey.

The Wig my Father Wore

Anne Enright

Published in 1995, The Wig my Father Wore explores love, relationships and a theme we see a lot in Irish literature – religion. The novel is narrated by Grace, a hapless young woman haunted by the horrible hairpiece that her father wears. Grace, unlucky in love and fed up with her family, is visited by an angel, Stephen, who has been sent down to earth to save lost souls. This beautifully written book by Anne Enright (winner of the Man Booker Prize for The Gathering in 2007) is emotional and surreal and definitely worth a read.

Our updated cover looks to play out the contrast between fiction and reality, and the battle of accepting that things aren’t always what they seem. As well as the obvious wings, the silhouette of Stephen appears to be bathed in light, taking on a celestial quality.

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