Title: The Joyce Girl
Author: Annabel Abbs
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 30th August, 2016
Synopsis: James Joyce was her father. Samuel Beckett was her lover. The stunning fictionalisation of the life of Lucia Joyce.
Paris, 1928. Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music and literature from artists such as Ford Maddox Ford and Zelda Fitzgerald. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of controversial genius James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer. But when Lucia falls passionately in love with budding writer (and fellow Irish expat) Samuel Beckett he is banned from the Joyce family home.
1934. Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. Now she decides to speak.
Profoundly moving and stunningly written, The Joyce Girl brings to light the untold tale of Lucia Joyce. It will entrance and educate you. You will fall in love with this compelling woman, but she will break your heart too.
The reader first meets Lucia Joyce in 1934, speaking with Dr Carl Jung, psychoanalyst, in Zurich. For years, she has been silent, kept secrets to herself. The story unfolds and flashes back to 1928 and beyond as Lucia recounts her story to Jung, though a bit reluctantly at first. As the story is told in first person from Lucia’s point of view, the reader understands the world she lives in from her perspective, sees the way her friends, family and acquaintances treat her from her perspective. Lucia is a dancer, determined to turn it into a career. Though she is constantly thwarted by her mother, and said to be her father’s muse, Lucia is determined. Determined to dance, determined to be loved. When her father’s new writing friend, Samuel Beckett, arrives to help her father – James Joyce, or Babbo, as she calls him – Lucia begins to fall in love.
As the story unfolds, Lucia’s dreams of love, and dancing continue to be thwarted and her parents demands that she cease dancing and take up another profession and other classes to help her father start to wear her down. From Paris to Ireland and back, the constant comings and goings of her father’s Flatterer’s, and her family’s determination to keep her down, Lucia’s story is heart breaking. Jung’s determination to get to the bottom of what is causing her pain at times sends Lucia further into herself, denying her feelings.
The clairvoyance that she exhibits, called her Cassandra moments by her father, only contribute to the events that bring her into contact by 1934 with Carl Jung.
Though much of the novel covers the years between 1928 and 1932, every so often it flashes to 1934 and Lucia’s time with Jung in Zurich, who is determined to find a way to help her, even if it means sending the person who has never given up on her away. Jung’s determination to get to the crux of Lucia’s hidden problems eventually comes to fruition, and the revelation and the fall out is as shocking as how she came to be put into the hands of Jung for treatment.
Avant-garde Paris, where art, literature and music in the late 1920s and early to mid 1930s reigned, at least in Abbs’ novel, set the backdrop for a well-written novel from a point of view that might not always be heard. The voice of family of well-known writers, or artists, such as Lucia’s, is not one that I have ever heard, nor is it a common one. Having read Ulysses by James Joyce, it gave insight into the sort of man he might have been – a man so obsessed with writing the perfect novel that he almost neglects his family to the point of his children finding ways to rebel against him, and leaving his wife to deal with this fallout. Lucia’s story is also about doing what you can to follow your dreams against the odds, and trying to break free even when everything works against you and thwarts your every attempt at freedom. The world where art was valued that preceded the devastation of the late 1930s and the 1940s highlights the differences in whose art was valued, and what art was valued in certain people. The Zurich conclusion brings it back home that even the most creative people have their own hidden secrets and problems. Lucia’s story is well rounded, and well thought out with characters that have been created thoughtfully from source material. Well worth the read for anyone, whether they are familiar with Joyce’s work or not.