Posy Simmonds walks a dangerous tightrope. Surely the readers of her cartoon strips published in the Guardian over the past 30 years must suffer more than occasional twinges of self-recognition as she harvests comic material from middle-class vanities and preoccupations. Yet such is her skill that the gibes come wrapped in sufficient warmth and humour to keep everything cosy – on the surface at least.
Originally serialised in the Guardian, Tamara Drewe has initial similarities to Simmonds’s previous graphic novel Gemma Bovery (1999). Both make knowing reference to 19th-century novels – this time it’s Far From the Madding Crowd – and depict the upheaval caused when an attractive, dissatisfied woman joins a seemingly idyllic rural community. Once a shy, horsey local girl, the post-nose-job Tamara returns as a glamorous newspaper columnist and metropolitan, and an object of fascination for the neighbours.
Whereas the plot of Gemma Bovery hinged on one man’s incomplete understanding of events, here Simmonds deftly juggles several narrators, their words interspersed with cartoon panels as Tamara wreaks havoc with her affections. But, as ever with Simmonds, it’s the faces that betray what’s really going on.