Tamara Drewe

Beat the crowds to the cinema (again) by reading up on Posy Simmonds’s Hardy-inspired graphic novel

Posy Simmonds has something of a monopoly on the type of work she does. It’s so uniquely middle-class British that only a Brit could really pull it off. But it’s also her ability to blend character-based prose with comic book illustration that lifts both her words and her art to new levels.

Tamara Drewe is a book marketeer turned newspaper columnist. Having had plastic surgery to reduce the size of her nose, which had given her a look not dissimilar to that of a proboscis monkey, she also changed her career and her life. Then, when she inherits a farm house in the country, everything looks set. Tamara settles in and looks forward to a comfortable future.

Across the fields, her nearest neighbours are successful crime novelist Nicholas Hardiman and his wife Beth. He writes his novels in the shed at the bottom of the garden while she edits and types up his manuscripts, runs his life, and also rents out their refurbished outhouses as retreats for other writers to use. An empty nester, Beth busies herself around her husband and their guests like they’re her infant children, feeding them and taking care of their every need.

Meanwhile, where the upper middle class inhabitants of the village thrive on their quiet retreat where nothing happens, the local youth are hamstrung by a lack of anything to do. The boys resort to stealing eggs and scaring cows, while the girls sniff solvents and dream of falling in love with celebrities.

The problems start when serial philanderer Nicholas starts an affair with Tamara, and the cracks that Simmonds has planted in the foundations of the supposedly idyllic rural retreat turn into fractures and rifts. Tragedy looms just around the corner.

Simmonds tells her story from the point of view of her female characters, flipping between Tamara, Beth and a young local teenager called Casey Shaw. The presentation is a little unusual, as each character’s prose, written like a diary entry, is surrounded by panels of illustrations. It’s a unique format, neither comic nor standard novel, but lying somewhere between.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book but found it a little pedestrian in places. By its nature, the viewpoints of the characters are often one step removed from the action: you don’t see as much of the affair as you hear the characters discussing it, while even the dramatic finale is concluded in the third person, which left us feeling distanced from events.

It’s an interesting read that could certainly offer a bridge between prose fiction and comics for those who are unsure about the literary value of the latter, and could also appeal to women with its strong if not unflawed female characters. An untraditional comic in a deeply traditional literary setting – typically Posy Simmonds.

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