Nov 20, 2012

Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

Posy Simmonds’ Gemma Bovery is a tribute to, rather than exactly a retelling of, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Gemma is a British woman in her early thirties who moves to a small town near Rouen, Normandy, with her husband Charles Bovery. The accident of her name doesn’t escape the notice of Raymond Joubert, the local baker and the narrator of this tale. Joubert believes that Gemma is doomed to repeat the mistakes of her fictional counterpart, and he tells her story in a way that highlights all the parallels with Flaubert’s. As his narration progresses, the book reveals itself as a self-conscious, metafictional, and darkly humorous homage to the classic tale of adultery and tragedy.

Gemma Bovery is a sad story about a young woman trying to finding contentment and growing increasingly weary instead, but I loved how Simmonds infused it with so much black humour. She satirizes all the stereotypes of expat life, pokes fun at small town gossip and at class dynamics, and, most of all, subtly ridicules her narrator himself.

Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

As Gemma Bovery progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Raymond Joubert is a creepy sort of narrator, and that his understanding of Gemma’s life is not exactly reliably. He becomes more and more obsessed with her, and insists on interpreting every detail of her life through the prism of Flaubert’s novel. The smartest and most subtle thing about Gemma Bovery is the contrast between Gemma as imagined by Joubert, and Gemma in the glimpses we get of her outside of his gaze: the diary excerpts that we get to read and the little moments that escape his scrutiny.

Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

Gemma Bovery mostly sticks to the plot of Madame Bovary, with one important difference that I don’t want to spoil. Still, it’s a story about a woman who trespasses and meets an unhappy ending, and so it follows a “punish the transgressive female character” structure that I find uncomfortable in so many classic novels. However, I found Gemma Bovery refreshingly subversive exactly because of the moments when Gemma manages to escape the story the teller wants to force her into. Rather than being inevitable, Gemma’s tragic ending is a direct consequence of the men in her life interpreting her actions according to a rigid script.

As you can tell from the panels I’ve included, Simmonds’ art is wonderfully expressive. Gemma Bovery differs from most graphic novels in that there’s a lot of narration in addition to the panels – but unlike in, say, Nylon Road, the text doesn’t ever feel intrusive. Instead, it gives Simmons room to keep her art sharp and focused.

Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds
Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

I didn’t enjoy Gemma Bovery quite as much as Tamara Drew (which I really wish I had reviewed), but it was still a great read. I definitely need to get my hands on more of Posy Simmonds’ work.

They read it too: Vulpe Libris, Shelf Love


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bermudaonion said...

I've never read Madame Bovary and this sounds like a great way to introduce myself to the classic. I love the illustrations you showed.

seana graham said...

I read this on the plane back from France some ten or so years ago. I loved it!

Stephanie Ward said...

I haven't read Madame Bovary since college (a long time ago!) :-) I'd love to read this graphic novel, and maybe it will inspire me to re-read the original book. I am adding this and Tamara Drew to my list.

I love the fact that you read and discuss so many graphic novels. It's a genre I haven't explored much, and I'd like to.

Kailana said...

I have never even heard of this author before!

Josette said...

Beautiful artwork! I've not read Madame Bovary but am intriqued with the story. I think I'll try to read this graphic novel first before the actual novel. :)

seana graham said...

Since I've never managed to get through Madame Bovery itself (though I still mean to), I'd say that just having a general sense of the story would be enough to enjoy this. Or say, if you like France...

Debi said...

This sounds wonderful...but I've never read Madame Bovary. :( It sounds like this really would be much enhanced if tried to tackle Madame Bovary first, huh? Which, sadly if I'm being honest, I probably will never do.

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

Seana is absolutely right! I've yet to read Flaubert myself, but I had no trouble at all keeping up with Simmonds. As long as you know the basics (19th century adultery story with tragic finale) you'll be just fine.

Iris said...

My library owns this! So I put it on hold. Wait a second.. my library also own Tamara Drew (in Dutch translation). Guess I will be reading both soon. Yay!

Ana @ things mean a lot said...

yay! I really hope you enjoy them :D