Book Review – Cassandra Darke by Posy Simmonds

Noted as ‘Britain’s favourite graphic novelist’ on the back cover blurb, but I’m ashamed to say I had not heard about Posy Simmonds before I became aware of the release of this book.

Cassandra runs a London art gallery. We are introduced to her as she is trying to avoid the widow of an artist. We soon learn she is very greedy and selfish. Her assistant at the gallery resigns almost as soon as she is introduced in the book due to Cassandra’s selfishness and lack of empathy.

The art in the book is mixed with text and speech bubbles. It feels a little incongruous to have substantial chunks of text within a graphic novel.

The artists widow discovers that Cassandra has been selling unauthorised copies of her late husband’s work, there is public scandal a court case and community service. Cassandra doesn’t much care.

Simmonds Art is clear, muted colours and textured shading give a wintery feel. There are occasional bright flashes of colour, a picture on a wall, a shop window display, chicken nuggets with chips and baked beans on a plate.

Cassandra takes in Nicki, the daughter of her ex-husband. Gives her a room and some money in exchange for Nicki being her ‘gofer’ essentially. A game of dare at a friend’s hen-do leads to the attempted rape of Nicki.

The attacker is a man named Deano. Nicki learns this off Billy, a former acquaintance of Deano who becomes her boyfriend.

To add to her list of endearing qualities, Cassandra is a hypocrite. She has ripped off clients in a big way, but accuses Nick of stealing food when the housekeeper giver her the left overs from Cassandra’s meals. Cassandra is mean and uncharitable.

Deano has a history of abusing women, aided by his small gang. We learn that Billy has come uncomfortably close to Deano’s crimes and has come into the possession of a gun, which Deano desperately wants back. Unwittingly, Nicki and Cassandra get sucked into a dangerous struggle.

I really wanted to like this book. Whilst I thought the art was excellent and Posy Simmonds makes reference to some pressing contemporary issues, I found it difficult to love. Cassandra does not come across as evil, just someone you wouldn’t have much to do with if you could help it. She’s meant to be unloved but it was also difficult to feel much empathy with the remaining cast of characters.

Cassandra Darke by Posy Simmonds (Jonathan Cape – 2018)

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Book Review: The Outcast Hours

From the editors of The Djinn Falls in Love (2017) comes this diverse collection of short stories based on the broad theme of ‘the night’. The writers come from a wide range of backgrounds, and the stories give their interpretation of ‘night’. As you’d expect with such a theme, the stories cover dreams, crime, horror and the supernatural.

This Book Will Find You – by Sam Beckbessinger, Lauren Becker’s and Dale Halvorsen sees a college lecturer using a magic book in a desperate attempt to bring her deceased lover back to life. It’s a tale of seeming grim desperation, the lecturer clutching at straws in the hope of making things as they were. The ending is disturbingly unexpected.

Will Hill’s story, takes as it’s title the explanation/excuse used by (or on behalf of) sexual predators. ‘It Was a Different Time’ is set in a hotel in LA by a hotel’s rooftop pool. A young employee confronts an old guy by the pool after it has officially closed for the night. The old guy was a big-shot in the film industry but is about to be exposed for a long-history of sexual harassment over many years. The older man forces the young employee to listen to his tale and in doing so reveals his prejudices and sense of entitlement even a longing for the old days when things were more ‘straightforward’. The employee is scared of what might happen but is barely disgusted by what the older man has done because he has become jaded by the number of similar stories he has heard recently in LA. This story is a document of the here and now.

In Blind Eye, Frances Hardinge tells a story of Erin, a baby-sitter who makes her money by catering to a niche market. She is asked to look after a young girl called Mia and told that she must not let her sleep. Of course, the child falls asleep and the results are mind-blowing. The baby sitter shows devotion to childcare that is above and beyond what other people might tolerate in the situation and in doing so, shows what true caring is really about.

Bag Man by Lavie Tidhar is a great hard-boiled crime tale about an old, experienced criminal call Max who calmly, but ruthlessly, sees a bag-carrying job he is given to the bitter end. This is a story about the journey, not the destination.

Swipe Left by Daniel Polansky is quite a thoughtful exploration of most women’s experiences of going out at night and the uncertainty and fear that often goes with it. Leah Moore also examines the women’s perspective of habitual bullying and harassment of women in her story ‘One Gram’.

S. L. Grey’s ‘The Dental Gig’ is a modern take on exploitation and alienation in the ‘gig economy’ with the twist that it’s about a tooth fairy.

One of the best stories is Yukimi Ogawa’s ‘Welcome to the Haunted House’, which brings in fairytale details in a horror setting for the entertainment of the masses. It’s a bizarre but hypnotic tale which, like ‘The Dental Gig’ looks at what happens to the servant when they become the master.

There are a couple of stories in this collection that defied my determined efforts to understand what they were about but the more intelligent reader may have more luck than me.

This is an enjoyable collection and will appeal to anyone looking for alternative, dark and horror fiction.

The Outcast Hours – Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin (Solaris 2019)