Thursday, September 1, 2011

Part 2 of Sophie Hannah (coming to Boswell on 9/19)--What's Up with the Title Changes?

Part II: The Changing of the Titles.

It's been my thought that in the age of international publications and global web access, the end of the changed title would be upon us.  Sophie Hannah is clearly a textbook case to argue against this, my Dr. Judith Duffy, as it were.

Sophie Hannah's had the pleasure of having four of the five titles in this series renamed for the American market. Here are her books in order:

1. Little Face
2. The Truth-Teller's Lie, which was published as Hurting Distance in the UK
3. The Wrong Mother, which before its trans-Atlantic journey was Point of Rescue
4. The Dead Lie Down, originally The Other Half Lives
5. A Cradle in the Grave, which in the UK is A Room Swept White.

Of course I am fascinated by this. How does a title change reposition the books? Are the original titles too British? Does the new title change the potential audience?  Time to contemplate.

My initial thought was that Penguin was trying either to reposition, or perhaps dual-position, the novel not just as a mystery, but as contemporary women's fiction, perhaps along the lines of a British Jodi Picoult.  There is good reason for this. Like Picoult, Hannah uses social issues to frame many of her novels. There is a crime element to just about all of the Picoult novels; she's done a number of signings at mystery bookstores over the years.

But Picoult's success was mostly from book clubs and connecting with her customer base and amazing word of mouth. And that's also a hint to me--I think this is at least Hannah's third visit to Milwaukee for five books.  That's a lot of touring to the midwest for a writer who lives in Cambridge, England. To my knowledge, she did at least one event at Schwartz, one event at Next Chapter (plus I think Books & Company also had a visit on one or both of these visits--you'll excuse me for not having a historical record of who went where) and now we're hosting her at Boswell. Watch--I'll find out she didn't really visit those other times.  When we hosted Chuck Klosterman, I learned that this was his first visit to Milwaukee, even though I had this strong memory of him visiting previously.)

So looking at the titles, I think that this might have been in the back of someone's mind when re-titling installments two and three, The Truth-Teller's Lie, and The Wrong Mother, but not really for the most recent two entries, which still have a strong mystery feel to them. By using "death" words, in The Dead Lie Down, and The Cradle in the Grave, you more firmly plant the feet of the book in the mystery genre, to my opinion.  So it seemed to me that the vision of breaking Hannah out veered a little more in the direction of Tana French, which is why French has a very prominent quote on the new title:

"The title really sells it.  It's creepy stuff, which sophie's things often are, quite necessarily." 

So here's my question.  Since French is Irish, which title is she referring to, as the book was likely published in Dublin as A Room Swept White?  I am actually quite attached to the UK title, as the reference is in a poem called "Anchorange", by Fiona Sampson, which becomes a clue in the novel. I suspect that in using a poem as one of the clues, Hannah plays homage to her own second life as a poet, having had several volumes of poetry published, most recently, Pessimism for Beginners.

"What flutters is a bird: blown in
By accident, or wild design
Of grace, a taste of something sweet
The emptied self, a room swept white."

I hope I am allowed to quote a stanza of these things. More on Fiona Sampson here. Both Hannah and Sampson are published by Carcanet, which seems to have some American distribution. I am checking to see if we can carry some of her poetry for the event, and also whether Hannah might bookend the talk with some poems of her own.

In the end, I think some of the retitlings were a good idea, but here I vote for A Room Swept White. I think even Penguin was on the fence, as some of the references in the body of the book, most notably the acknowledgements, refer to the British edition.  There's also the book within the book (or rather, in this case, the two books within the book) which is is thrown off by the title change.  And yes, I could write an entire blog piece just about books within books.  I love them!

The book was clearly re-edited for America, as the British spellings were not noticeable.  There is the use of the word "lounge" for "living room", but I jolly well liked that.

So there you have it, a whole lot of meditation on Sophie Hannah. What I can't tell you is the inside joke regarding the numbers on the card. I just discovered this and thought it was quite good.  Also, I did figure out that next book continues the thread of changed titles.  Hodder and Stoughton (UK) are calling it Lasting Damage, while the Penguin American edition will be titled The Other Woman's HouseVisit Hannah's website for more tidbits. And join us on Monday, September 19, 7 pm, for a talk/reading with Ms. Hannah.

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