Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

An English Collage

This being the first thing I read by Simmonds, after reading about Gemma Bovery in a review, I didn't know just what to expect. What I found was an intelligent, sensitive and thouroughly enjoyable recount of the story of Gemma Bovery, an English woman living in a small French village.

As the name implies, the 19th century French novel Emma Bovary plays a vital role but maybe not as one would expect. It is not, despite the similarities, a modern day recount of the story, but rather a comment on it. Yes, many of the superficial things that happen are the same, but the tone is very different. In Emma Bovary the heroine is more of a victim of the circumstances, and the story also heavily reflects Flaubert's modernist approach, whereas we in Gemma Bovery find more of a post-modernist one.

Of course, the more abstract theoretical background is by no means an requirement to enjoy Simmond's novel. The story itself, together with the marvelous drawings draw me into the story and made me read it in one (long) sitting. The black-and-white drawings are exquisite, for me invoking the same feeling as those of Will; it's clearly visible that Simmonds works in an European tradition and not an American one.

Also worthy of note is the different parts that this work is made up of: Lots of variation in the pages composition, with some pages almost all text and some almost all drawings, hand-lettered parts (Gemma's diary) mixed with typeset parts (Joubert's comments), English mixed with French, sometimes translated, sometimes not and so on. The magical part is that it all comes together so effortlessly, and managing this kind of mix is a thing I treasure.


  • First published in serialized form in the Guardian
  • Other books by Simmonds to look for: True Love, Pick of Posy, More Posy, Pure Posy

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