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Posy Simmonds

Cassandra Darke

Category: Fiction | Published: 2018 | Review Added: 28-11-2022

Rating: 4 - A top read

Posy Simmonds draws cartoons about the lives of artsy metropolitan Brits. She has produced several graphic novels, of which this offbeat crime thriller is one.

Cassandra Darke is a 71-year-old art dealer, divorced, overweight and cynical. She has long given up on happiness, and lives for compensatory luxuries: a large house in Chelsea, good food and drink, a personal driver, and a second home in Brittany. After selling unauthorised copies of a sculpture, however, she lands herself a two-year suspended sentence for fraud, and huge payouts to lawyers and injured parties.

Darke's crime was motivated more by boredom and a self-sabotaging impulse than by greed. Disgraced and, by her standards, impoverished, she feels herself reaching the end of her road. Then she finds an unpleasant item left in a laundry basket by her former lodger Nicki. Nicki is her ex-husband's daughter, a feckless performance artist with a nose for trouble, who got mixed up with unsavoury characters during her residence with Darke. When Darke is dragged into their seedy world, she has the opportunity to show courage and public spirit for the first time.

Cassandra Darke is a retelling of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The plot is well-thought out, and the emotional arc, though contrived, is quite moving. Darke is not quite as mean-spirited as Ebeneezer Scrooge, but all the same, her moral turnaround is rather sudden. However, this is a cartoon thriller, not a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. The artwork is good, with gestures and physical quirks well captured, whether it's Nicki leaning over her mobile in a posture reminiscent of the figure of Melancholia in a Renaissance painting, or the rotund torso of Darke anchored like a rock amid blithe Christmas shoppers, incongruous in her heavy black coat and aviator's hat.

The book is fun and thought-provoking, while also gently satirising aspects of shallow modern life. We can only agree with Darke, when she claims that Nicki's burlesque performances, nominally done in the name of charitable causes, are excuses for her to display her body for admiration. But by the end of the book, Darke has acquired tolerance for others' foibles, and learned to accept her own.

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