“Gemma Bovery” by Posy Simmonds

Impressed earlier this fall by Posy Simmonds Tamara Drewe graphic novel (not the movie adaptation, which I didn’t see), I sought out her earlier riff on the classic Madame Bovary, Gemma Bovery. (TD was a riff on Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.)

Gemma is a self-involved artistic English woman who marries Charlie Bovery, who refurnishes antique furniture. Frustrated by their circumstances in London, they move to rural France. Their nosy neighbor, a portly white balding man, Joubert, narrates the story. He is a creepy ogler, fascinated by Gemma and her increasingly risky behavior.

If all this sounds familiar to those who’ve read Madame Bovary, it’s meant to. But as with the name and characters and situations, this is a modern take with significant differences as well. It does share with Flaubert, though, a skewering eye for detail that nonetheless makes its characters understandable, if not entirely sympathetic. After reading, I wondered why both Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe were narrated by portly, white, balding, intrusive men. Then I noted a similarity between these details and those of Hardy and Flaubert. Simmonds has done fascinating work, updating classics with words and pictures to tell the stories in a fresh, modern, sophisticated way. Highly recommended, but read the original first.

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