Cassandra Darke is not a nice woman. She is an art dealer, and quite an unscrupulous one.
Here is her rationale for her business style:
I must have been aware of the risk of being found out, but until then my activity had hardly seemed criminal. More a way of giving certain clients what they asked for and what they deserved. Clients who pissed me off. Speculators, who had no interest whatsoever in the art they bought, except for its ability to hold its value. I spit on them, their ignorance, their vulgarity, their itchy palms. Anyway, the game was up. Assume the worst, I remember thinking (my usual motto).
Cassandra has been doing some dodgy business with her ex-husband Freddie’s business, and now he has Alzheimer’s she was hoping she might have got away with it. But it all comes out and Cassandra has to go to court and be found guilty of massive fraud and have her face all over the newspapers. One year later when the events of this story really get going, she has done one year’s community service and sold her house in France.
Cassandra Darke is inspired by Dicken’s Scrooge. All around her it is Christmas, snow is falling, and her curmudgeonly presence stalks through the streets of London in a bulky raincoat and a hat with ear flaps. When a beggar asks her if she has any change, she replies, ‘yes thanks.’
Cassandra is in an unusual situation in that Freddie left her for her sister Margot and they have a child, Nicki. Nicki sees herself as an artist, although Cassandra doesn’t. Her work involves a kind of performance art in galleries protesting the sexist content of well-known paintings, or later, burlesque pole dancing. Cassandra mostly likes mid-twentieth century sculpture. When Nicki calls on her for financial support Cassandra reluctantly allows her to occupy her basement flat, in return for secretarial duties and lots of dog walking of Cassandra’s closest companion, Corker, the black bulldog. It is through Nicki’s unwise behaviour that a violent criminal comes into their lives and Cassandra has to find a way to deal with some very scary events.
I was not inclined to read a graphic novel, and this was my first venture into the field. If you have a similar reluctance but would like to have a taste, you will be in safe hands with Posy Simmonds. Her stories have literary inspirations. Gemma Bovery, a novel of English expats in France, is based on Emma Bovary, and the highly popular Tamara Drewe (now a motion picture) owes dues to Far from the Madding Crowd. I haven’t yet read either of these, but I will now. Posy Simmond’s art work can be quite exquisite, especially in the Christmas scenes and scenes of the English countryside in winter. The frames about Nicki and her criminal mates are more sparsely drawn and their language is more basic than the fanciful speech of Cassandra, but that seems appropriate.
Cassandra Darke is only about ninety-six pages long and a great deal of this is illustration, but the sardonic humour makes it a deeply enjoyable read.
Here is Cassandra on her way home from Freddie’s funeral, reflecting on the inevitable.
My ideal death would be soundless obliteration under deep, deep snow. Winter landscapes, in art and nature have always appealed and I really wouldn’t mind being another hump in a painting by Caspar David Friedrich. Of course, when the snow melted I’d end up spoiling someone’s day…
I asked myself why I was so reluctant to read a graphic novel when I recalled my love of comics as a child. I remember the excited waiting for my father to finish with the newspaper so I could read about Mandrake the Magician and his assistant Lothar the Strongest Man in the World. The words ‘Mandrake gestured hypnotically’ are permanently lodged in my brain.
And no less did I love the Nancy comics, where Nancy, and her friend Sluggo and her aunt Fritzi Ritz were my first glimpse into the fascinating world of the USA.
And of course, from England, there was Rupert Bear, who had a great deal of text as well as very colourful artwork.
Any favourites you can recall?