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Tamara Drewe Hardcover – International Edition, November 19, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This irresistible graphic novel by longtime Guardian cartoonist Simmonds is roughly based on Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd and uses it to depict the English upper-middle class having tawdry midlife crises. Beth, the wife of renowned author Nicholas Hardiman, runs an idyllic writer's retreat where she's parlayed her skill at caring for her husband into caring for other writers. She and her literary charges barely notice the locals who, jammed on council estates, look on with envy. Enter young Tamara Drewe, a newspaper columnist famed for her post–plastic surgery beauty. With Ben, her rock-star boyfriend, and her citified ways, she knocks Beth's little group on its head and gets stalked by two local girls. After Ben leaves Tamara, she decides the already adulterous Nicholas would be a nice lay on the rebound, only he falls in love with her. The art captures British frumpiness so well it's scary; middle-age spread hulks through this book like sad weight, but it's less skilled with beauty; Tamara's looks don't sway the reader the way they sway the characters in the book. But the view on how feminism has failed in moneyed Britain is priceless. A wonderful and slightly evil book. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From The New Yorker
Flaubert homage �Gemma Bovary� with a similar contemporary remake�this time, of Thomas Hardy�s �Far from the Madding Crowd.� Affectionately satirizing contemporary literary life, she updates Hardy�s vain, ambitious beauty, Bathsheba, as Tamara, a London journalist (she�s had a nose job, carries Mulberry bags, and writes a column called �Away from It All�) who returns to a quiet village after her mother�s death. Like Bathsheba, Tamara leaves a series of the local men in her wake, including two associated with a writer�s retreat next door. Simmonds�s lushly realistic drawings and complex female characters recall those of Alison Bechdel, but her learned references and her ear for a variegated British vernacular make her unique.
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Top Customer Reviews
A wonderful combination of prose and top-flight cartooning, Tamara Drewe is a story full of flawed, yet intriguing characters whose foibles actually make them more interesting. The titular character is herself more of a catalyst in the story than she is a protagonist, an approach which keeps Tamara at a distance from the reader: we are as curious and fascinated by this woman as the characters in the story whose lives are changed by her very presence (indirectly in some cases, more directly in others). It's a romance story, or rather, the story of a number of overlapping romances, but more importantly, it's a story about identity, and the exploration of same. How do we define ourselves? How do others affect that definition? How much does our concern about how others define us actually impair our ability to define ourselves in the first place? It's heady stuff, yet handled in such a light, breezy manner as to take the reader by surprise; you won't be thinking about the larger theme of the piece until you're done...the narrative itself is that compelling.
Elegantly drawn and flawlessly written, Tamara Drewe reminds us what a tragedy it is that both the US and UK comics markets let "comics for girls" die off decades ago, yet offers an encouraging template for a potential return of the form. Top marks.
But the real triumph is Simmonds' great way with dialogue and voice. Each of the characters comes across as a vivid person, with their own distinct emotions, point of view, and verbal quirks. Simmonds does an excellent job of combining prose with visuals, in the process creating what was, for me, a new approach to storytelling.
If you're looking for a graphic novel that has real depth, I recommend starting here.