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Book Review < Back

Gemma Bovery

Credits: Written and Illustrated by Posy Simmonds
Publisher: Pantheon Books


Though she began in daily comic strips, British author Posy Simmonds transitioned into graphic novels in 1981. Odd that someone who was such an early pioneer in this form of graphic literature would be virtually unknown in the states (though she does have a tale in Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids). In fact, I had never heard of her until fellow artbomber Andi Watson started talking about her wonderful 1999 book GEMMA BOVERY.

GEMMA BOVERY is the story of one woman's life, examined after her death, as an outsider who was obsessed with her searches for answers. Digging into her secret diaries, Raymond Joubert uncovers the trail of how one man's rejection drove her to another man's acceptance, and how she came to the small French township he calls home. While his initial fascination with her was based on the similarity of her name to the Flaubert novel, Madame Bovary, he is soon drawn into a drama that parallels the fiction he so admires in surprising ways. Through Joubert's literary fantasies, Simmonds creates a metafictional veneer, setting up her own complex metaphors about the interweaving of "real life" and "fiction" (one can even stop to ponder how much the illustrator Gemma is a reflection of the illustrator Posy, were one so inclined). Blending prose and comics in a gifted, organic manner furthers the layered storytelling. The mercurial flow of her brush allows Simmonds to adopt many voices and shift her art style to fit each facet of the tale, at times echoing the best of the New Yorker, Lynn Johnston, and Jules Feiffer. Scenes play out in opposition to our narrator's point of view, and in the rich world of conflicting narratives Simmonds has erected, we aren't sure if this is how Joubert imagines them, or if the author is showing us the reality to juxtapose it against the fiction in his head and the Gemma Bovery who portrays herself on paper.

While Simmonds's reliance on the Flaubert novel means some points of the story are a foregone conclusion, I never had a sense of boredom. The visual delight of the storytelling served as a good distraction from the things I thought might be coming, wrapping me up in her soft ink lines and gentle washes, creating the safe place that only the best storyteller is capable of.

-- Jamie S. Rich

Jamie S. Rich has edited comic books for ten years, over half of them as editor in chief at Oni Press. In 2000, he published his first novel, Cut My Hair, and is currently exploring his second. When it's done, he swears his website, confessions123.com, will make a lot more sense. In addition, he has written film and music criticism for various publications, and has worked on scripts for far more Tokyopop manga translations than he cares to count.


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