Tamara Drewe

About a year ago, I read Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds. I enjoyed it a lot: her modern retelling of Emma Bovary, in graphic-novel format, struck me as clever, witty, and urbane. I was therefore very interested in reading Tamara Drewe, which is another modern way-we-live-now graphic novel loosely based on Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd (incidentally the only Hardy I’ve read so far.)

Beth, the wife of renowned author Nicholas Hardiman, runs an idyllic writer’s retreat. She’s spent her life serving others, including her husband, and making sure that they’re barely aware they’re being served. Nicholas may have occasional affairs, but they don’t rock Beth’s world; he always tells her about the other women, and he always returns. But enter Tamara Drewe, a beautiful, independent young newspaper columnist famous for her recent nose job, and the murk beneath the still waters begins to stir. Tamara brings her rock-star boyfriend, Ben, but when Ben gets fed up and leaves, she decides that the adulterous Nicholas would be an excellent second choice. The problem comes when Nicholas actually falls in love. In a second plot line, two girls from the local council flats are obsessed with the beautiful Tamara. Their interference with her life ultimately causes discovery and tragedy (I won’t say how or what.)

Simmonds does such a brilliant job of dissecting these upper-middle-class lives. She’s sly, observant, witty, and accurate about their selfishness and their self-delusion, their schadenfreude, their anxiety, and their eagerness for moderate celebrity. The references to Hardy are subtle — this is an original story, really only roughly based on Far From the Madding Crowd — but they’re there: if you look, you’ll find the bold valentine Bathsheba sent, the wretched Fanny Robinson, and the closed community of Casterbridge.

Both Far From the Madding Crowd and Tamara Drewe originally appeared as a serial. I read each of them as novels, at a gulp. I’m curious how they’d be, more spread out: would they have more suspense, would I notice more of the fantastically detailed art in Simmonds’s work? In the end, though, Tamara Drewe felt simplified. As much as I enjoyed this graphic novel — and I did, and I’d recommend it — Teresa will be happy to hear that it just convinces me that I need to read more Hardy!

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12 Responses to Tamara Drewe

  1. litlove says:

    Tamara Drewe has just come out in the cinemas over here and I was weighing up whether to go and see it. I have to confess I have never read a graphic novel, and am at the moment still not really tempted. But I recall seeing a story by Posy Simmons on television one Christmas when my son was young – it was a children’s animated story about a kitten and it was hilarious, so I imagine she would produce fantastic graphic novels!

    • Jenny says:

      You know, it was a total coincidence that I read this just as the film was coming out. I had no idea. But it doesn’t sound as if the film will live up to the book! It’s a lovely piece, interestingly done — you might get it from the library and see what you think.

  2. Posy Simmons’ art looks arresting, whether or not I want to read her graphic novels. Where were these originally serialized?

  3. anokatony says:

    I’m looking for a good graphic novel to read, so am giving Tamara Drewe a try. I really liked many of Hardy’s novels.

  4. gaskella says:

    Posy Simmonds has been a long-running weekly cartoonist for the Guardian newspaper in the UK – I loved reading her strips. I must get round to reading her graphic novels. BTW the film of Tamara Drewe was panned in the UK.

    • Jenny says:

      I hadn’t heard anything about the film and only realized it had just come out when I started looking for images for the post! This was a good book, but not at all sure how the film would be!

  5. adevotedreader says:

    I bought this ages ago (I think when Teresa read it, as I love Hardy), but haven’t picked it up as I’m wary of the graphic novel format. I must read it before I see the movie, so thanks for the reminder.

    • Jenny says:

      Graphic novels can be wonderful if they’re not trying to do exactly the same thing as a traditional novel. They are wonderfully inventive. You might pick one up and try it sometime!

  6. Teresa says:

    Yay for more Hardy! I vote for Return of the Native. I think that’s the one you’re most likely to like.

  7. I haven’t read Far from the Madding Crowd yet, so I would want to read it before moving on to this version. I am definitely interested in the version of Madame Bovary though!

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