Wednesday, March 09, 2011

John Lawton, or Which title is better?

Today I bought John Lawton's Flesh Wounds (published as Blue Rondo in the UK). I also flipped through his Riptide (published in the U.S. as Bluffing Mister Churchill).

I've written about novels whose titles change from country to country before. Once again, I'll ask you to weigh in, only this time you have to some up with novels that have different titles from country to country and tell which title you like better and why.

(For the record, I like Blue Rondo better than Flesh Wounds and Bluffing Mr. Churchill better than Riptide.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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23 Comments:

Blogger f.k.omm said...

they are very different and do different things, i think..

overall, i prefer "flesh wounds", (both as a title and the cover visual), because it strongly signals "violent crime thriller" (not having read the book i hope it is one!).

"blue rondo", both as a title and as a cover, looks like it could be a more thoughtful, intriguing kind of book.

what is especially intriguing though is how the publishers thought titles and visuals so different would work for the same book!

my expectations as a reader are miles apart when i see them side by side...

March 09, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

It should be said that, while an author is somewhat consulted on titles and cover art in his/her own country, the same is not true of foreign countries.
On the whole, I react more to the cover art than titles. When it comes to titles, I have to assume the foreign publisher should know best what turns his readers on. The cover art is different in that it so often is wrong for my books. Still, while I may fight for titles/covers on the original publication, I have only once rebelled against a foreign version.

March 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

F.K., few things can be as subjective as preferences for one title or cover over another. This particular Flesh Wounds may have a more striking cover than this particular Blue Rondo. In this case, it's not hard to at least guess at the reasons for the differences.

I think of Lawton's Troy series as a social history of mid-twentieth-century England, but he somehow wound up categorized as a crime writer. Each of the two covers emphasizes one of those aspects. Also, music both classical and period-popular is important in Lawton's work. In this case, the British title is presumably a reference to dave Brubeck's 1959 jazz standard "Blue Rondo a la Turk." So Blue Rondo captures both one aspect of Lawton's overall purpose as well as one of his particular interests. My conclusion: Changing titles is a tricky business.

Another book I wrote about some time ago does something similar, though on less grand a scale. Åsa Larsson's Sun Storm is called Savage Altar in the U.K. The U.S. title presumably refers to the book's occasional atmospheric references to the Northern Lights, the British title to the location of the killing that sets the plot in motion. One pubisher went for atmosphere, the other for more literal reference when choosing a title.

Savage Altar sounds to me too much like a generic thriller title, but I can understand the reasoning behind it. I like Sun Storm better (and it's also a literal translation of the novel's original Swedish title.)

March 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I haven't studied this issue widely enough to be able to detect general differences for one kind od title or another between U.S. and British publishers.

The covers of your books that I've seen are evocative of Japanese painting, though possibly from periods later than those in which the books are set.

March 09, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Re Flesh Wounds as a title... A brief glance at WorldCat reveals novels with plots centered around "computer pornography," "a Midwest man arrested for sexually abusing his 13-year-old granddaughter," a collection of horror tales, a military adventure tale set during the Vietnam War, and nonfiction titles including Flesh Wounds? New Ways of Understanding Self injury and Flesh Wounds: The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery. In other words, books that might be about any old subject.

While a search of Blue Rondo as a book title reveals only the Lawton novel, which does indeed refer to the Dave Brubeck number.

"Blue rondo" is far more moody and evocative than the lurid and sensationalist "flesh wounds" and thus a more accurate title for the Lawton novel. Lawton's choice of Riptide for the title of another Frederick Troy novel was the title of a World War II (the era in which the eponymous novel is set) popular song.

March 10, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

To get back to Lawton, whose novel I'm unfamiliar with, I have to say that "Blue Rondo" means nothing to me, and that "Riptide" doesn't remind me of a popular song. I agree on a distaste for sensationalist titles (gore sells!), but frankly there are better possibilities than obscure references to music--which may be very localized anyway and meaningful only to a few people.

March 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, thanks for the brief and possibly comprehensive list of titles that contain "flesh wounds." The phrase's very versatility explains much about my lack of enthusiasm for the title. "Wounds" is evocative but a bit cheapened by overuse. We can suffer real wounds, psychic wounds, wounds to our national pride, and so on. Same with "flesh." It's a bit of a cliché.

A flesh wound is, of course, a superficial wound -- an injury of little consequence. That's where the title Flesh Wounds takes on overtones of melodrama and self-congratulation. The prospective reader of a book with such a title is very clearly meant to regard the title as ironic declaration that the book is really about something far more important than a mere flesh wound.

Of course, "blue" by itself is even more an instant mood-setter than "flesh," but the unusual "rondo" adds interest.

March 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I recognize the Brubeck title even though I don't know the music. That argues against the proposition that Blue Rondo is an obscure reference, I think.

I don't know what factors authors and publishers take into account when coming up with titles, but I have to think that they always want a title that will be distinctive, faithful to the book if possible, but also resonant enough to catch the eye of readers who don't get any allusions the title may make. I'd say "rondo" does the job.

Finally, I suspect that those same authors and publishers, the intelligent ones at least, recognize that no title will please everybody and that at some point they just have to pin their hopes on what's between the covers.

March 10, 2011  
Blogger Yvette said...

I find the European covers to be a bit more sophisticated and less simplistic than American covers. Though not always.

Jasper Fforde's books are a good example of the European covers being more fun, more in tune with the tone of the books.

Though, THE FOURTH BEAR's American cover was, I thought, the exception, it was superb.

Lee Child and Robert Crais both have much better European covers. Their American covers are quite 'blah' (if not downright ugly) most of the time.

American covers of the Harry Potter series were another exception to the rule. I thought the American covers done is pastels were brilliant.

Title changes can, obviously, lead to confusion. But when certain words don't mean the same thing over there as they do over here, well, there's no help for it, I guess.

I like BLUFFING MR. CHURCHILL better too.

March 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Then there are the English translations of Andrea Camilleri, attractive in their U.S. editions (from Penguin) but even more so in the UK versions (from Picador, I think), mostly because their pastel colors are evocative of sun-baked Sicily.

March 10, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Blue Rondo" and "Riptide" as song titles meant nothing to me, either.

I don't believe Lawton was expecting potential readers to snatch up those books based on readers' associations with musical works but rather was interested in establishing an initial mood, or tone, in readers' minds that he then pursues through the course of the novels.

"Riptide" has an intro that provides a background to the WWII song and the singer most closely associated with it. The selection of that word/song title becomes more clear as the novel progresses.

f.k. is exactly right, the title "Flesh Wounds" "strongly signals 'violent crime thriller'" -- which Lawton's book most definitely is not.

And, sheesh, that hackneyed cover for the US version. Big Ben > London > get it? Crikey!

March 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What are those guys on the cover? Presumably they're meant to suggest Mods or Teddy Boys or whatever those groups' counterparts were in the 1950s.

Crikey? Don't you mean blimey?

March 10, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Based on their garb, I'd say they are Teddy Boys > Rockers. Photo's a bit blurry though. Perhaps they are generic wide boys.

I picked up "crikey" while living in England in the late 1970s and have been using it on and off ever since. I never heard anyone say "blimey," but then I didn't live in Eliza Doolittle's part of London.

March 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Rockers were the ones I had forgotten about. Mods came along in the 1960s, didn't they?

"Blimey" played a role in sending me to England, I think for my first trip there. I was in Montreal for the first few days of a longer vacation because my mother hosted a party for some of our English relatives. Old Cousin Jack had left a pile of family photos on his knee, and he accidentaly knocked them to the floor.

"Blimey!" he exclaimed, and at that moment I knew I needed to visit England. I was in London before Jack returned home.

March 10, 2011  
Blogger Fred said...

I had just finished a novel with two titles--an UK title and an US title. The author is Arthur Upfield, and the novel is part of his Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte series.

Inspector Bonaparte is part Caucasian and part Australian Aborigine. The series is set in Australia. The UK title is _Bony and the Black Virgin_ while the US title is _The Torn Branch_.

_The Torn Branch_ is more in line with other titles in the series.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I think you're right that "The Torn Branch" is more in line with other titles in the series. I've read several of the books, and none that I can remember has Bony's name, much less the "Bony and the XXX" format.

March 11, 2011  
Anonymous Jason Payne said...

I suppose my favorite example of absurd title change is Peter Ackroyd's Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem, which inexplicably became The Trial of Elizabeth Cree here in the U.S. The original title is odd, original, and intriguing (and what drew me to it in the first place); the latter sounds like a bad "Law and Order" episode. My thought at the time was that U.S. publishers assumed American audiences wouldn't know Dan Leno as a British vaudevillian or Limehouse as a district in London, hence the title comes off as too inscrutable for sales. I don't find that line of thinking particularly convincing though, and find it frankly a bit patronizing.

March 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jason, I knew what a golem and Limehouse were but not Dan Leno. But even if I'd been 0 for 3, I like to think I'd have found the title intriguing enough to make me want to find out what it meant, perhaps by reading the book.

March 11, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Blue Rondo gets my vote.

Don't like gory thrillers or titles.

And now I'm reminded to find Dave Brubeck's music of the same name.

March 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think Blue Rondo could appeal to readers who have never heard of the musical number.

March 15, 2011  
Anonymous Billa said...

I remember you loving Adrian Hylands
"Diamond Dove" as much as I did.
Diamond Dove was Emily Tempests dreaming....... nevertheless Soho published it as "Moonlight Downs"
as you already mentioned.
The german title (Suhrkamp)is
"Outback Bastard".
Again: why?

March 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note. Soho Press in the U.S. would have had a plausible reason for changing the title. Its catalogue already included Peter Lovesey's Peter Diamond novels, several of which had Diamond in the title, including Diamond Dust. Maybe Soho feared confusion on the part of readers or booksellers.

I guess Outback Bastard may refer to Emily Tempest's mixed white-Aboriginal background. I'm not sure if bastard has different connotations for a German reader, but to a reader whose first language is English, I think that title would convey notions of hardship and grimness that don't quite fit Hyland's book.

March 21, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Plus it is a derogatory term, not a scientific one about the nonmarital status of the biological parents.

Don't think Australia nor Soho Crime would have used the word.

Wonder why the Germans did. It's making me nervous. I thought the Germans were over the superior attitudes. It sounds rather arrogant and pejorative.

March 27, 2011  

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