If you are new to graphic novels or want realistic graphic stories, Posy Simmonds could be your gateway to graphic novels. She is best known in the UK; both Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovary were published in serial form in The Guardian newspaper. Simmonds artwork retains the soft-edged realism of sketches and are often combined with large blocks of narrative text; a combination that works perfectly for her satirical relationship dramas. These books share many elements: a heroine who has physically transformed herself, self-involved husbands, infidelity, a frump in his fifties who imagines himself to be the centre of the story, and death.
Gemma Bovary is narrated by Raymond Joubert, a middle-aged French baker and drama queen who is convinced he must save his new Anglaise neighbours Charlie and Gemma Bovary from repeating the tragic mistakes of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary! He steals Gemma’s diaries and is dismayed that Gemma barely acknowledges his existence. Instead she obsesses over her decor, her ex, her body. She disses both the annoying French locals and the pompous English week-enders yet barely mentions her romantic liaisons. From the outset of the novel you know who is dead–what you don’t know is how it happened.
Tamara Drewe is set at an idyllic writer’s retreat in the English country side and is primarily narrated by Beth, wife of self-involved popular writer Nicolas Hardiman; she manages both his career and the retreat. The story shifts perspective often, giving us insights into every character. This includes two teen girls, Jody and Casey, who find the drama of Tamara’s life far more interesting than anything else in their boring village. Their neighbour’s life is so interesting, in fact, that Jody is willing to break the law to get the whole story. The frump of this tale is Glen Larson, a fiftyish academic who has convinced himself that the young and beautiful Tamara finds him attractive.
Both books are from the adult collection and are most appealing to readers who have been through a break-up, but could be read by anyone over age 12 who enjoys the social commentary often found in murder mysteries. Although adultery is a major element there are no explicit scenes. Both books reveal vanity, insecurity, stupidity, ego and hubris as the culprits of everyday tragedy. If you’d like to check Simmonds’ work out for yourself, Tamara Drewe can be read entirely online, thanks to the Guardian Archive
Posy Simmonds page on the Lambiek Comiclopedia
Read a brief review of Gemma Bovary from the NY Times
Pocket Full o’ Books in-depth review of Tamara Drewe with artwork samples.
Image from the Guardian Archive