By Posy Simmonds
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Islington is one of the most diverse boroughs in London with an almost 50/50 split between rich and poor. There are representatives from pretty much every single ethnic group out there all combining to make a vibrant, exciting and stimulating enivornment that makes it a great place to live, work and relax - not to mention it's library service which boasts some of the friendliest and most-helpful staff in the country (if not the world).
I find it kinda funny (I find it kinda sad) then that the Islington stereotype(what most people think of when they imagine the typical Islington resident)is a spiffy white middle-class type with some high-powered career in law, politics or the media who spends all their time either chattering about the latest Orange, Costa or Booker nominee or sticking their long pointy noses into a fancy-pants glass of wine ("I'm getting traces of elderflower and chocolatey mushrooms" and all that jazz...). That's only a small minority of the borough but (oh well): it's the ones group that have managed to define the entire area.
But (oh well) the people who conform to the Islington stereotypes are most definitely out there (I've met a fair few). Thankfully tho (and what would we do with out her?) Posy Simmonds is here to skewer them in their hearts - and make them dance and writhe for our entertainment. (Sorry - is that a bit much?).
Gemma Bovery is the first proper Posy Simmonds book that I've read. I started on Fred when I was a kid - then recently tried Literary Life and had such a fun time with that - that I thought I'd give one of her more wordy books a try (I'll admit now that I did write a post on here about Tamara Drewe which was written without me actually reading it - which felt a little naughty at the time: but when I tried to start it just seemed a little too daunting - but I'm now looking forward to properly giving it go...). The thing about her proper books - is that to the weary traveler attempting to scale the terrain for the first time it all looks very rocky and difficult. I mean (joking of course) people like to read comics because all those words in proper books gets a bit much: yet you open up Gemma Bovery and there's millions of the things scurrying across the page like ants - wordy ants made up out of letters (fetch me the spray). But wait - put the spray down - because even tho if it is roaming the bleak no man's land between "graphic novel" and "proper novel" that doesn't mean that it can't sap the strengths and powers of both - which is frankly what it does - with a considerable amount of wit and class (pun slightly intended).
But yes: I'm super glad that I gave this a proper go - because this is a comic that within just a few pages had clasped itself on to my brain and left me with no choice but to devour the whole thing in a few short hours. The characters are all amazing. All Islington stereotypes (even if some of them are French): with a lots of (the comics version at least) of location shooting in the surrounding areas. My favourite was Charlie's ex-wife who takes passive-aggression to sublime jujutsu levels.
No duh: the book is (of course) based the famous Gustave Flaubert proper novel Madame Bovary. I haven't read it (although my fussy and much-more-literary-minded flatmate keeps on pestering me to read it - in much the same way I keep imploring him to read Scott Pilgrim) but that did nothing to stop my fun from reading it (there is a handy French guide to point out most of the parallels but I'm pretty sure there's a few references I missed - oh well). All you need to know is that there's lots of passion, illicit affairs, secret bonking and it all ends in a terrible tragedy.
As well written as proper novels with plenty of spot-on lines ("...it was to feel oneself entering a particle storm of pheromones") and laugh out loud one-liners ("Sh*t. Sh*t! I chose bloody Quality of Life... now I've made myself poor.") and rustic pencils that capture every small glance and private defeat - and I should disclose that I felt myself falling every so slightly in love with Gemma's luminous, wide-open feline eyes. With tons of total throat-in-my-heart moments and a dry humour that drifts through every page like the smell of warm bread: this is a comic that is almost guaranteed to crack the shell of any human heart: romance, death, mystery and jokes - this book's got the lot.
Links: Michiko Kakutani New York Times Review, Comics Worth Reading Review Quarterly Conversation Review.
Further reading: Tamara Drewe, Literary Life, Strangers in Paradise, The Rabbi's Cat, Kiki de Montparnasse, Pride and Prejudice.
All comments welcome.