In Review: Tamara Drewe

Tamara Drewe by Posy SimmondsThe Plot: Tamara Drewe has transformed herself. Plastic surgery, a different wardrobe, a smouldering look, have given her confidence and a new and thrilling power to attract, which she uses recklessly. Often just for the fun of it.

People are drawn to Tamara Drewe, male and female. In the remote village where her late mother lived Tamara arrives to clear up the house. Here she becomes an object of lust, of envy, the focus of unrequited love, a seductress. To the village teenagers she is ‘plastic-fantastic’, a role model. Ultimately, when her hot and indiscriminate glances lead to tragedy, she is seen as a man-eater, a heartless marriage wrecker, a slut.

First appearing as a serial in the Guardian, in book form Tamara Drewe has been enlarged, embellished and lovingly improved by the author.

The Review: This latest edition of Posy Simmonds’ Tamara Drewe, first published in British newspaper The Guardian in episodic form, proved an entertaining weekend read (and a marked contrast to my other Jonathan Cape-supplied reading matter, Bryan Talbot’s Grandville!).

Inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, Tamara Drewe is an entertaining, acerbic jab at idealized views of both the British countryside and country life. For Simmonds, the countryside in Tamara Drewe, centring on the life of a young newspaper colunnist, is far from safe: with angry cows and even more dangerous writers ensconced in a writers’ retreat, there is plenty to be wary of. Not least of which being superbly observed bored, sidelined teenagers, watching the comings and goings of rich middle class Incomers with a mixture of contempt, boredom and desire.

It is the teenagers who prove the engineers, albeit in part quite innocently, in circumstances which lead famous crime writer Nick Hardiman away from his much put-upon Beth and wife into the arms of Tamara Drewe: a choice which, ultimately, results in chaos and more than one tragedy.

Nick Hardiman and Tamara Drewe's affair begins after the sending of an emailAn understated yet powerful tale, this version of the story is revised from the original newspaper edition, presumably to make for a more coherent graphic novel: in this it almost fully succeeds.

There remains, for me, an uneven nature to the finale, the understated fate of writer Nick almost lost in continuing character development: indeed, it’s the death of one of the teenagers that proves all the more dramatic. Which of course proves a superb counterpoint to the village youngsters otherwise drab lives, enlivened only by minor vandalism and a spot of housebreaking.

The delight of a graphic novel Tamara Drewe comes more from Simmonds observations and characterization – both visual and textual – rather than the perhaps rambling plot: insecure writers, sex-starved teenagers (and writers!), pompous d-list celebrities – none are safe from Posy’s wicked pen.

If you’re a longtime comics fan seeking to persuade friends of the form’s many merits, this would be one of my recommendations…

Web Links

Apart from the first episode – go figure! – the newspaper version of Tamara Drewe can still be read on The Guardian‘s web site

Guardian Video: Posy Simmonds on creating Tamara Drewe

Posy Simmonds talks about the origins of Tamara Drewe and the processes by which she ends up on the printed page.

Stephen Frears drawn to Tamara Drewe film

The Guardian, 17th July 2009: Gemma Arterton reportedly cast as title character in movie adaptation of Posy Simmonds’s comic strip about a beautiful columnist who ruffles feathers in a rural writers’ retreat…

More Reviews…

Best of 2008: Comics Worth Reading

“Although relatively well-off, definitely middle class, with the ability to choose lives of the mind, everyone’s unhappy. They want things they’re not likely to get: Beth, to stop being worried about her husband; Glen, the novel to save his career; Andy, Tamara; Tamara, a career as a writer, not just a journalist. So I was surprised to see, by the end, most everyone had a happy ending. That’s a pleasant change of pace from Gemma Bovery…”

Mick Imlah in The Times: Tamara Drewe’s Wessex

“If there was a time when what Posy Simmonds seemed to offer was an “entertaining satire on the middle classes”, that limitation no longer applies. There is nothing in Hardy, you might say, which more grimly conveys the paralysis of lesser rural life than her pictures of Casey and Jody at the old bus shelter…”

Richard Pachter for Graphic Novel Reporter

“Simmonds is a wonderful artist. Her fluid storytelling skills are strong and her clean, illustrative style is a delight. Great faces, landscapes, still lives, and emotions are portrayed with precision and panache. The coloring is subtle yet effective, and her language is simple yet rich and evocative…”

Sara Cole for Pop Matters

“… Somehow, Simmonds’ work seems aimed neither for graphic novel enthusiasts nor for the aspiring cosmopolitan types whom it both embraces and skewers. With its hyper-self-awareness of class and clout yearnings among the middle-class, Tamara Drewe comes off a bit like the graphic novel equivalent of Frasier…”

Briefly Noted in The New Yorker

“Like Bathsheba, Tamara leaves a series of the local men in her wake, including two associated with a writer’s retreat next door. Simmonds’s lushly realistic drawings and complex female characters recall those of Alison Bechdel, but her learned references and her ear for a variegated British vernacular make her unique.”

Robert Wringham for The Skinny

“Lengthy paragraphs – usually internal monologues of the characters – have been added alongside the strips but it’s uncertain of what these are supposed to achieve, as the comics work brilliantly in their own right…”

Penny Perrick in The Times

“Posy Simmonds is a true child of Hogarth, her accomplished cartoons a merciless commentary on the way we live now. Going one better than her progenitor, she adds a tangy text to illuminate further her characters.”

Categories: British Comics