Posy Simmonds’ latest reads like a post-Brexit take on Daniel Clowes’ Wilson: we meet our eponymous anti-heroine Cassandra in December 2017, late in the day, belligerently scuttling through the Christmas crowds, avoiding a client who she thinks may have found her out (Cassandra runs an art dealership with her ex-husband, who has ceded control to her as his dementia bites) and cursing the world for the predicament in which she finds herself. Before you can say ‘it isn’t really a spoiler because it happens right at the start of the book’, she is ruined, reputation in tatters, fortune cast to the four winds and all very much not right with the world.
But before we get too comfortable in 2017, the narrative hop, skips and jumps back a year. We learn that Cassandra’s husband ran off with Cassandra’s sister (ouch). We see her offer to put up her stepsister’s daughter, Nikki (who is something of a wild one, given to burlesque dancing – or ‘posh stripping,’ as Cassandra calls it). After a night on the town, Nikki is assaulted by a London gangster sort called Deano and comes into the possession of a single pink glove and a gun, which she promptly hides in – you’ve guessed it, Cassandra’s capacious house.
Now, in addition to Cassandra (who you think would be the primary narrative voice, given the book is named after her) we also hear from Nikki (which is fine, dual perspectives offering both writer and reader a device to reflect on the wider narrative), Nikki’s on-off boyfriend Billy (who is himself wound up in the troubles thanks to a loose acquaintance with Deano) and Deano and his gang. There are pro’s and con’s to this approach. The pro’s largely arise in the intergenerational conflicts that exist between Cassandra and Nikki (see the fun Simmonds has with text messages and dick pics and what have you); the cons manifest themselves in a slight tricksiness most noticeable when the point of view changes. At times it’s almost like Simmonds doesn’t want to change perspective and she’s been asked to do it and so we shrug and harrumph from one voice to another in a kind of blink and you’ll miss it inducement of momentary confusion.
But, the briefest of momentary confusions aside, Cassandra Darke is a glorious work. As you’d expect, it looks beautiful. Simmonds brings London vividly to life. The glum crowds and twinkling shop windows that we see at the beginning of the book fair leap from the page. And, whilst there are frames that recall no-one quite so much as Chris Ware (lots and lots of boxes, not much in the way of words) there are also pages that read more like an illustrated novel (in other words, a largish slab of text in the middle of the page with two or three illustrations around it), which somehow creates a sort of fireside comfort, as if you were reading this book within the confines of a brooding English mansion at some ungodly hour.
What was particularly beguiling for this reader, though, was the seemingly effortless way in which Simmonds manages to write a story that is both dark as pitch (the abduction at the heart of the book is as macabre as William Trevor’s novel, Felicia’s Journey) and exuberantly hilarious. In many ways, then, Simmonds could be said to be the graphic novel equivalent of Julia Davies (whose show Sally4Ever is running as we write this), alienating and entertaining in equal measure. It’s a high-wire act carried out with dazzling aplomb.
Any Cop?: Fans of Posy Simmonds won’t need our recommendation to dash out and pick this up but we will say that we think it’s among the very best of her work.