In Leamington Spa rail station – a station I frequently pass through – there is a take-one-leave-one bookshelf. I love this concept – you don’t actually have to leave one to take one, and many times when my train is delayed or I unexpectedly finish my current read or a run out of battery on my phone, this bookshelf has saved my journey.
Last time I came through, I was waiting for the train when I spotted a paperback that caught my eye… this time, I actually did have a book with me that I didn’t mind donating (it was good, I just didn’t mind donating it!) so I duly left one and took one.
The one I took was Jane Green’s Saving Grace. With its pretty pastel coloured cover art, and big friendly title font, it looked like a nice light read to give me a bit of a break from the slightly-more-brain-power-required stuff I’d been working on. I read the description, and sure enough, it looked like it would be an enjoyable ‘chick-lit’ type story (hate that phrase).
BOY WAS I WRONG.
Saving Grace turned out to be more like light psychological horror than light fluffy fiction, and it was so unexpected! When I put this down at around midnight on the night I finished it, I had to lie there in bed for a bit just reassuring myself that it wasn’t real and I was safe. Brrrrrr!
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it. It was a gripping, engaging story, and I was terrified by the frankly all-too-believable antagonist. I felt for the characters and I was unsettled by the narrative.
It was just so unexpected! I hadn’t wanted to read a scary book, I’d wanted to read a nice fluffy book, and the positioning of Saving Grace completely misled me as to the nature of the story. All those pleasant pastels, the sweet pun of the title (the main character is called Grace), the nice big friendly cover art and fonts… I know the cliché says that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but really, that’s exactly what we all do, every day, and more to the point, it’s what we should do*. The cover, and the visual signals it sends, are vital clues in helping the potential reader navigate through the thousands of millions of books out there.
I didn’t even know I had so many expectations about visual coding until they were left unmet – but I do, and so do you (probably). In my mind, having read the story, the cover of Saving Grace should have predominantly navy blue or black tone, with flashes of red or bright blue or white. The title should be less ‘romance novel’ and more ‘Girl on the Train‘. The image should maybe show a shadowy face, rather than a stylish, stylised, feminine torso. Having started work in the publishing industry, I can’t help wondering if the positioning of this novel has hurt its sales.
Anyway. Like I said, I still enjoyed the book – I just can’t help thinking I might have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t expecting something completely different.
*Only when we are talking about actual books, here, people – I’m not encouraging negative Judgey McJudgerson attitudes, now.