The Chunnel has made no difference. The French remain utterly foreign in English eyes, a peculiar and self-absorbed race that can give us cartoon books, call them la bande desinée
and pretend they're as high an art form as, say, the novels of Gustave Flaubert. When plain English folk venture even as far as Normandy, they're letting themselves in for culture shock on a grand scale. Gemma is your average girl about London. Dumped by her ambitious lover, she rebounds onto a safe bet, gentle furniture restorer Charles Bovery. But Charles comes with an ex-wife and children and Gemma baulks at being the unpaid babysitter. When money falls into her lap, Gemma flees London and drags Charles to Normandy, where she spices up her increasingly dull marital life with a bit on the side named Patrick Large. But then she dies, under mysterious circumstances.
The English would see this as poetic comeuppance for adultery and emigration, of course, but to Bailleville baker Raymond Joubert, it's a tragedy of epic proportions, as befits Gemma's namesake (OK, near-namesake), Emma Bovary. So, with brilliant novelistic pomposity, Joubert traces Gemma's life through the diaries she left, reading Gallic depth and meaning into every trite occurrence. Posy Simmonds is of course best known for her Posy cartoons in the Guardian, but if you've never believed you could get through an entire book of cartoons, think again. This is a brilliantly funny and beautifully sustained book, that in its very form skilfully illuminates the gaping void between English and French sensibilities. You don't need to know Flaubert to read Simmonds, but after reading this, then Madame Bovary is bound to be back on your wishlist of Books You Always Meant to Read. --Alan Stewart
" Truly original, witty and well-observed--a work of genius." --"Sunday Telegraph" " The most original book of the year...beady, cunning, and terribly funny." -- Deborah Moggach, "Daily Mail" " Hilarious...the absurdities of daily life among the aspiring metropolitan middle class at home and abroad." --"The Times" "From the Trade Paperback edition."