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Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds

10th Sep 2010

Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds

Posy Simmonds’ work as a cartoonist was a mainstay of The Guardian throughout the 1980s, with strips featuring the Webber family and their friends, a group of well-meaning liberals struggling to cope with life under Thatcherism. Her breezily comic artwork and lovable, convincingly human characters were matched with sharp social commentary.

Alongside a parallel career writing and illustrating books for children, she returned to The Guardian in 1999 with an ambitious and unusual project. Gemma Bovery was a single story serialised over a year of weekly instalments; this longer form allowed her literary interests, which had never been far from the surface of her work, to flower with a modern take on Gustave Flaubert‘s Madame Bovary.

Gemma Bovery was widely praised and Simmonds’ follow-up, longer and more sophisticated than any of her previous work, was again inspired by a nineteenth century classic: Thomas Hardy‘s Far from the Madding Crowd.

No knowledge of the previous book is needed to read Tamara Drewe, but witty nods to Hardy are sprinkled throughout: the dashing Sergeant Troy is re-imagined as a bad boy rock drummer, and Bathsheba‘s ill-advised valentine becomes a pornographic e-mail. The updated story revolves around Tamara Drewe‘s return to the village where she grew up; she comes with a new nose, a broadsheet column and no desire to spend any more time than necessary in the countryside, where she immediately becomes the object of universal fascination.

The book really shines as a showcase for Simmonds’ distinct style. It flows between classic comic book panels with speech bubble dialogue and denser blocks of narrative text with illustrations. The writing switches between multiple narrators, all firmly drawn and eerily recognisable, and the art efficiently fills in place, character and expression. It’s such a pleasure to experience that it makes it seem a shame all books aren’t graphic novels.

The film smoothes the edges of the book considerably; a plot which mixes satire with a real interest in its characters and an awareness of the darkness lurking just under life’s surface becomes a bit of a ripe, rural romp but it’s a decent stab at the story and if it leads more people into discovering Posy Simmonds, it’s hard to be too churlish.

Tamara Drewe, fortunately still in a non tie-in edition, is available from Amazon for £7.66.

Post by Kate Phillips