Book Review: Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds

Gemma BoveryTITLE: Gemma Bovery

AUTHOR: Posy Simmonds

GENRE: Graphic Novel, Adult Fiction

FIRST PUBLISHED: 1999

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Review

Set in France, Gemma Bovery is told from the perspective of a French baker, and follows his obsession with a young English woman who moves into the area with her husband.  A silent observer, Joubert lives voyeuristically by watching an affair unfold between Gemma and a local man, but is driven to hysteria as he believes her fate will be the same as the protagonist of Madame Bovary – ending in tragedy.

I really have mixed feelings about this book.  I was close to giving up on it, but I kept going because I was desperate to know how things ended – namely, whether Joubert’s Madame Bovary prophecy would come true.

On the plus side, I have never read a graphic novel like this one.  There is so much text that it read more like an illustrated book than a graphic novel, and I thought that was really exciting.  Although told by Joubert, the story also includes long quotes from Gemma’s private journals, and I think it was necessary to have these parts as text opposed to pictures (as long-winded as they sometimes were), so they can be read in their original form, without being skewed by Joubert’s perspective.

I also liked experiencing Normandy through Gemma’s eyes – it actually gave me itchy feet and made me want to visit (even though Joubert was so negative about English visitors).  There was a lot of untranslated bits of French conversation which did make everything really authentic but was also a bit of a pain as I didn’t know what anyone was saying…

On the whole though, this book just didn’t work for me.  I think ultimately I was left feeling disappointed, particularly by the ending, which was actually completely underwhelming.

I think one of the biggest problems was that I didn’t feel like I engaged with any of the characters.  Gemma’s life was so mundane for so much of the story that I just didn’t actually care for her future or her marriage at all, and the only exciting part really was the affair itself.  I didn’t care for her boring husband, or the annoying English family who holidayed nearby.  But in a way, that’s exactly the point – Joubert was blinded by his obsession, and found her fascinating regardless.

To an extent, I wonder if the reader is meant to feel disengaged on purpose.  One positive of this is how it gave me the opportunity to be objective about the unfolding events.  As an outsider, I could sense Joubert getting increasingly unhinged as the story went on.  I quickly sensed that he wasn’t actually a reliable narrator through Gemma’s diary entries, which in the end barely mentioned Joubert at all (a great example of perspective).

Star Rating: ★★ (2/5)

Emma

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