Illuminated, just enough

Later on this evening the Man Booker Prize will be awarded to one of six shortlisted books. Going by the covers alone, Jenny Grigg’s design for Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is the stand out for me this year…

Australian designer Grigg’s cover for Catton’s 800-plus page novel, published by Granta, is the most subtley crafted on the shortlist, but packs no less a punch for it.

If the book’s title is taken at face value, with no knowledge of the content of the novel, then the artwork seems to suggest that something once hidden is being illuminated.

In fact uncovering things is part of the storyline (gold digging in New Zealand) and, in using these four shapes, Grigg is also showing something in the ‘process’ of illumination – the moon.

These four lunar stages (from top, a full moon, waning gibbous, last quarter and waning crescent), allude both to the title and one of themes of the book. The ‘luminaries’ is an astrological term for the sun and the moon; for astrologers the two most important bodies in the heavens.

According to Tom Tivnan on We Love This Book, in writing the book Catton referred to charts from Sky & Telescope magazine and also used and the Stellarium software program “to plot the stars and planets during the course of when the narrative takes place, with characters linked to the heavenly bodies.”

Twelve “stellar” characters apparently relate to the Zodiac signs, while there another seven “planetary” characters in the novel, each revolving around a murdered character, Crosbie Wells.

In the US, The Luminaries is published by Little, Brown and the cover looks like this:

The moon’s phases are increased to 12, suggestive of those 12 ‘stellar’ characters in the novel, with much more of the portrait showing through. Yet this reveal feels far too much compared to the elegant restraint shown in Grigg’s UK edition.

Whether Catton wins or not tonight, many more readers will no doubt be drawn to her book – and its cover will continue, rather brilliantly, to give little away.

When beginning a new book, sometimes it is more fun to be kept a little in the dark.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton is out now from Granta. Details of the other five Man Booker-nominated books are at – the winner will be announced at 9.50pm tonight. Jenny Grigg’s work can be seen at

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