“Cassandra Darke” by Posy Simmonds Publisher : Jonathan Cape, London – an imprint of Vintage Year : 2018
I have to admit that I’ve never particularly been a follower of Posy Simmonds’ work as a children’s book author / illustrator, newspaper strip artist and graphic novelist, though I know of her work.
Her more recent graphic novels have been adapted into successful live action feature films (“Tamara Drewe”, “Gemma Bovery”) hinting at her skill in crafting stories for a more mature audience, and “Cassandra Darke” builds on this resulting in something that feels very cinematic whilst avoiding the obvious visual conventions of the comic panel as a storyboard frame for a film.
I received the book as a Christmas present, which is apt since the story is set just before the festive season and ends at the New Year.
Simmonds’ adult fiction work has mostly been set in the milieu of advertising agencies, publishing and the art world, populated by sophisticated people who are revealed to be less than perfect and often quite horrible, and “Cassandra Darke” is no exception – the surname of the central character and cover art anticipates the “noir” tone of the story.
The eponymous character is a 60-something curmudgeonly art dealer and West End art gallery owner who is embroiled in some skullduggery via her lodger and employee, Nicki, a twenty-something free spirit who resents her employer and who is the daughter of her ex-husband by another wife.
I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot, but it is very dark, perhaps darker than any of her previous work – it’s a darkness that is tempered by some brilliant characterization that somehow makes you want to follow some uniformly awful people through a plot that establishes Cassandra Darke’s character from page 1 – she really is a “piece of work”, beautifully realized by Simmonds deceptively economic graphic style – in terms of the plot it would suffice to say that what starts out with the suggestion that Darke is implicated in serial art fraud over decades, soon spirals into something darker.
Set in locations that are recognizably the London of the present day and that reflect the multicultural nature of the city without ever resorting to broad caricature, Simmonds is not sparing in depicting the shallow central characters in the same vein as satirical cartoonists like Hogarth and Gillray.
Whilst I’m appreciative of the graphic novel form (being an artist working in animation) I rarely dip into them – if you are expecting fantasy, this is not it – it’s more like a crime novel (again, personally, not a favourite genre) where illustrations take center stage over text and is refreshingly different for that reason.