Rugged and heavily built, a single solid lump of energy – that’s how this impressive account of the early years of Belgian novelist and poet Hugo Claus comes across to the reader and observer. The portraits on the front and back, the substantial lettering on the jacket front, the thick boards of the cover: there’s no getting round them; this book demands attention. Inside, we find an astutely designed book printed in a fairly large, classical typeface. Though they were otherwise not always straight away of one mind, the panel were struck most of all by the inventiveness with which the generous numbers of illustrations are presented. ‘It’s all been done in an attractive, modern way,’ someone said, ‘creating an almost three-dimensional effect.’ The result is that full justice is done to the archive material, much of which is published here for the first time.
Designers Gert Dooreman and Stijn Dams have also given much care to the balanced distribution of images and text over the pages, with visual resting points at regular intervals. The book’s rhythm is controlled, the equilibrium between the chapters being in all respects carefully and delicately conserved. One panel member found the chapter headings somewhat overpowering, and this led to a degree of unrest during the deliberations. Or was it that the effect was actually enhanced by the black divider leaves. There were also doubts about the dust jacket, which was a little loose and seemed to have been trimmed slightly short. It does, however, reveal a robust, hard cover which again bears the portrait of the young Claus, this time without the title et al. ‘A very stylish biography,’ the panel decided unanimously, in an ode to a new literary publisher with a desire to take book design seriously.