Monday, January 21, 2008

Tamara Drewe

Joanathan Cape, 2007

This graphic novel was originally serialized in The Guardian from September 2005 to December 2006 – I hardly missed an issue; I loved it. However, it was only when I bought the book (published Oct 2007) that I realized the plot was an updated version of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd.

Quite embarrassing as (a) the novel was one of my set texts at school and (b) Posy Simmonds doesn’t exactly disguise her intentions in any way! – “Far from the Madding Crowd” are the first words of her book - the headline of an advert for a writer’s retreat where the action is about to take place.

It goes to show though that one can enjoy Tamara Drewe on its own merits, without any knowledge of Hardy’s original text. But equally, it’s great fun to follow Simmond’s exceptionally imaginative and intelligent recreation of the novel’s plot, characters and even themes.

I particularly like the way she borrows and repeats the novel’s motifs and incidents in a reframed way – for example instead of the cheeky Valentine’s card inflaming Farmer Boldwood, Nicholas Hardiman gets an email (cc’d to Tamara’s two other suitors from her computer by a mischevious village teenager). But for me the most satisfying reuse of a motif is the mad dog herding livestock to destruction – to completely different ends.

While fairly dramatic, it is clear Simmonds restrains Hardy’s wild melodrama somewhat. Ben Sergeant isn’t nearly as wicked a character as Sergeant Troy, although his sulky sexiness does cause trouble for the female characters.

I have to quote Wikipedia’s marvelous line from their plot summary:

“Her [i.e. Bathsheba’s] initial dislike turns to infatuation after he excites her with a private display of expert swordsmanship.”

Quite so.

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