Why we love it: This weekend, we’re curling up with a novel that introduces us to an overlooked woman in literary history – Lucia Joyce. History had forgotten Lucia – reduced her to a tragic footnote in the stories of two literary lions: her father, James Joyce, and erstwhile lover, Samuel Beckett. Annabel Abbs has done what only a novelist could. The Joyce Girl breathes life into the scraps history has left behind, giving Lucia an inner life and narrative of her own: as a dancer, a lover and a talented polyglot. But, most of all, a woman who – in thrall to her father’s genius and perhaps even his desire – finds her personal ambitions thwarted and ultimately turned inward…with devastating consequences.
The Joyce Girl takes readers on a compelling and heartbreaking dance between the consulting rooms of Carl Jung in 1930s Zurich, and back in time to 1920s Paris. Pulling in a supporting cast of artists and literary figures – from Stella Steyn to Zelda Fitzgerald – along the way. But this is Lucia’s story. And, with her as our faulty narrator, we spin into the Joyce family’s inner sanctum: an oddly conservative and claustrophobic household nestled in the heart of the Parisian demimonde.
When we first meet Lucia she is confused and broken – taking the ‘talking cure’ with the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who insinuates that her famous father may be holding her back – or even something more sinister. Through these sessions, we reel back to six years earlier, when Lucia seems on the point of fame as a modern dancer, flirting with a young, wealthy composer who’s mad about her.
But all that begins to unravel when she falls headlong in love with her father’s new protégé, the budding writer Samuel Beckett. As her narrative unfolds, it’s clear that Lucia has much to overcome. Her mother’s hostility. Her father’s increasing need of her. Her brother’s betrayal. She hopes to find escape in her métier: dance. And perhaps marriage. But, in the end, will even that elude her?
As Lucia’s story unfolds, the sense of the jaws of destiny closing in on this talented young woman becomes almost overwhelming. And we cannot help but be moved. In the end, nothing may have been able to save Lucia Joyce. But Annabel Abbs has done the next best thing: her re-imagining of Joyce’s daughter has brought Lucia painfully and vibrantly to life on the page – giving her the chance to dance once more.
Annabel Abbs lives in London and Sussex with her family and an old labrador. She has a degree in English literature and a Masters in marketing and statistics. After 15 years running a consultancy, she took a career break to bring up her four children, before returning to her first love, literature. Her short stories and journalism have appeared in various places including Mslexia, The Irish Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Huffington Post. The Joyce Girl, her debut novel won the 2015 Impress Prize for New Writing and the 2015 Spotlight First Novel Award, and was long-listed for the 2015 Caledonia Novel Award and the 2015 Bath Novel Award.
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