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!