The illustration on the Ballantine Guerrillas cover (October 1976) is an image of clichéd power: the woman is vulnerable from behind: the man holds her – not quite like prey, but the hint is certainly there; and she looks more than willing to surrender herself.
And as if to remove any doubt about the image, a brief publisher’s summary, in intense black capitals, smaller than the title and the author’s name, but strategically placed so the reader’s eye drops to it automatically after focusing on the woman’s body, sits beneath the picture of our New World, tropical landscape:
A TROUBLED CARIBBEAN PARADISE, WHERE SEX IS THE ULTIMATE WEAPON, POWER THE ULTIMATE PRIZE.
The remainder of the paperback’s cover is rain-cloud grey and it surrounds the illustration at the centre and everything else. The grey is what the picture’s composition and the book’s title seem to have emerged from. The grey suggests, as does the entire cover of the book, stasis (and what comes from it); and the cloudy skies of England, its once long indifference to many of her former colonies.
By that particular shade of that particular grey, I’m reminded of Jean Rhys’ unforgettable novel Voyage in the Dark: the destruction, almost, of Anna Morgan who, at a certain point, is no longer needed and therefore discarded.
England: the word evokes many images and feelings, perhaps more so than any other country on earth. England: her legacy is the legacy of the greatest empire the world has ever known.
“England, Roche thought: it was so hard to get away from England here. And there were so many Englands: his, Jane’s, Jimmy’s, and the England – hard to imagine – in that old woman’s head.” (p119)
The cover of my copy of Guerrillas has a certain dishonest but provocative merit: the woman is quite attractive, more so than Jane in the novel; and the man’s body (Ahmed), the little you can see, is more athletic than the one in the novel.
Yet this clichéd tropical-island image, based on the standard exotic tourist brochure of our time (which has something in common, in terms of fantasy, with the novel Ahmed is writing in Guerrillas), is undermined somewhat by the sun’s dark fire into which the man’s head is embedded; and that iguana, as expectant and self-obsessed as the woman, retains, uncannily, its human attributes the more you observe it.
The intimation here is of the atavistic fears of humans, like those so powerfully dramatised in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. No one in Golding’s novel trusts any one else, eventually (not even themselves or the natural world), and this condition is an exquisitely sinister thread that runs through Naipaul’s novel; it’s a corruptive force undermining the remaining civil society on the island.
As paranoia and distrust operate in Guerrillas, I’m reminded of their portraits in the works of the magnificent Spanish writer Javier Marias, whose creative sources return repeatedly to the Spanish Civil War, the major event in recent Spanish history, examining how that period was made. Marias observes the way human relations of every kind suffer when they are confronted with and undermined by paranoia, misperception (deliberate and not) and distrust, and how they all then affect the wider society.