The Cuckoo’s Cover

My review of Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling appeared in The Sunday Guardian today (and will be here on the blog soon)


I was interested in the cover with which the newspaper illustrated the review. My copy of the book has this cover, which I think works pretty well at signalling its genre at least. TSG chose this one on the right, which I hadn’t seen before (is it the American one? I’m not sure). I’m assuming that the figure whose back is turned to us is supposed to represent the celebrity model Lula Landry, whose death drives the plot of the novel. Now [spoilers, possibly] quite a big part of the book focuses on the fact that Lula was multiracial, and particularly that her father was black. We’re also told that she’s very beautiful, and I don’t know how far the book is relying here on that slightly creepy trope where people of mixed race are always astonishingly beautiful. Here, for example, (I quoted a bit of this in my review) the detective Cormoran Strike meets a young man who often acted as Lula’s chauffeur:

A masterpiece produced by an indecipherable cocktail of races, Kolovas-Jones’s skin was an olive-bronze, his cheekbones chiselled, his nose slightly aquiline, his black-lashed eyes a dark hazel, his straight hair slicked back off his face. His startling looks were thrown into relief by the conservative shirt and tie he wore, and his smile was consciously modest, as though he sought to disarm other men, and pre-empt their resentment.

The novel suggests that Landry is visibly non-white. She’s described as “dark, luminous, fine-boned and fierce”, in one photo shoot we see “a single dark nipple”, she is described as “black, too, or rather, a delicious shade of café au lait“. We’re told that “‘They go darker, see; when she were born, she looked white.’” More than one character (her adopted brother, as well as another minor character) describes her as having issues from growing up as the only black member of a white family.

And so we come to the image above, and …hmm. I don’t know. I don’t want to outright claim that this cover has been whitewashed, because you could stretch a point and consider the model’s skin “a delicious shade of café au lait“, maybe. But I don’t know. Given the publishing industry’s less than ideal history with putting characters of colour on its covers, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they should choose a woman with her face turned away from the camera and skin that would usually be interpreted as (at most) lightly tanned to depict a character who’s visibly a woman of colour. I’m still annoyed, though.

2 Comments to “The Cuckoo’s Cover”

  1. I think it’s rather a stretch to think the woman pictured on the cover there is anything but white.

    Book covers drive me nuts with that regard. They’re supposed to be representing the book, yes? So why is it so many book covers make me examine them and wonder “Who is that supposed to be, exactly? I just read this book, who IS that?” Or, they get the breed of dog the main character has wrong (as a dog person, this is a big peeve for me. Not as bad as whitewashing, obviously, please don’t think that’s what I mean.) But with the book in your hands (or a pertinent description of the book and its characters), how hard is it to get things “right”? Very, evidently.

    • Yeah, I’m only even raising the possibility because someone somewhere is going to read this and accuse me of being too quick to see racism. And … yes, I’m annoyed by covers not getting details right, but on the whole I think that’s just publishers being careless. The whitewashing thing is a far more insidious trend and obviously only goes one way (you don’t see white protagonists getting ‘accidentally’ turned black on the covers), so I’d prefer not to compare the two? (I realise you weren’t suggesting the two were equivalent, but still)

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