‘There are sins or (let us call them as the world calls them) evil memories which are hidden away by man in the darkest places of the heart but they abide there and wait.’
James Joyce, Ulysses, 1922
Now I’m going to honest here and, even though I am Irish, I have never read James Joyce.
The appeal for me with this novel is that The Joyce Girl is primarily about his daughter Lucia. It is also set in Paris in the 1920’s/1930’s, an era, which by now some of you will have realised, I just adore.
When I received my copy from Natalie of Impress Books I was delighted. I knew immediately that the hardest part would be to write a good enough review to justify this absolute genius debut from Annabel Abbs.
Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music, literature and dance. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer, training with some of the world’s most gifted performers.
When a young Samuel Beckett comes to work for her father, she’s captivated by his quiet intensity and falls passionately in love. Persuaded she has clairvoyant powers, Lucia believes her destiny is to marry Beckett.
But when her beloved brother is enticed away, the hidden threads of the Joyces’ lives begin to unravel, destroying Lucia’s dreams and foiling her attempts to escape the shadow of her genius father.
Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent by her father to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. But now she decides to speak.’
Lucia Joyce, a truly forgotten individual.
Lucia Joyce was to spend most of her years in and out of mental institutions. A very promising career as a dancer was never to come to fruition, due to what appeared to be, her very unusual relationship with her father, James Joyce.
James Joyce was banned from Ireland as his novel, Ulysses, was, in every way, the antithesis of Catholic Ireland in the turn of the 20th Century. James Joyce eloped to Trieste with Galway girl Nora Barnacle. James and Nora lived a very alternative, bohemian lifestyle, depending on financial support from wealthy sponsors.
Lucia and Georgio (her brother), both born in Italy, were reared in poverty. In one of their frequent moves they eventually settled in a reasonable apartment in Paris. Lucia and Giorgio, had a very close, somewhat intense relationship, as they had no other company but each other.
As the years passed Lucia developed a passion for dancing, a talent that appeared to come naturally to her. Ignoring the persistent pleas of her parents to stop, Lucia danced to rave reviews. All this time, her father was working on a very special novel. His eyesight was failing rapidly as he became dependent on many young aspiring writers to assist him. One such writer was another famous Irishman, Samuel Beckett.
Samuel Beckett is portrayed by Annabel Abbs as a very young, shy man just arrived from Ireland to study. Beckett is in complete awe of Joyce and soon they start working together, Throughout this time, Lucia fixates herself on Beckett and the consequences consume her every move.
An obsessive personality haunts Lucia. She has dreams to escape to another world, without the restraints of her parents. The ever present parental influence restricts her every move, with the rules of a traditional Irish parent been imposed by extremely non-traditional parents. Lucia is confused. She wishes to spread her wings and enjoy the lifestyle that Paris has to offer in the 1920’s.
We catch glimpses of the famous Gertrude Stein and Zelda Fitzgerald, all synonymous with The Jazz Age.
Zelda Fitzgerald’s comments about her life seem to have had an influence on Lucia after one particular meeting.
‘I should have been inspired by Mrs. Fitzgerald’s success. But I barely thought of this. I thought only of Mr. Fitzgerald’s insistence that she turn down the chance to dance in Aida. I thought of her acquiescence and it filled me with foreboding.
Perhaps married women were no more liberated than unmarried women. Perhaps my marriage plan was not as foolproof as I thought.’
The Joyce Girl introduces us to two very different periods in Lucia’s life. We find her at the beginning an excitable girl with dreams and ambitions of marriage and a career. In a parallel story, she is under the care of world renowned psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Dr Carl Jung in Zurich.
Both periods of her life are interwoven into this absolutely heartbreaking story of a young girl trying to fulfill her ambitions and dreams. Her family, society and all around her fail her, resulting in the falling of a star that would shine no more.
‘That night I knew there was something dark and monstrous inside me, lurking, waiting, biding it’s time. I couldn’t explain or describe it, but it scared me. Sometimes it jumped into my throat and took control of me.’
The Joyce Girl is a tragic but beautifully told story. I think the fact that it is inspired by true events brings a certain poignancy to the novel.
Lucia Joyce, spent most of her life interred in an asylum. Profits from the first year royalties of The Joyce Girl go to YoungMinds in memory of Lucia Joyce.
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Who is Annabel Abbs?
Annabel Abbs grew up in Wales and Sussex, with stints in Dorset, Bristol and Hereford. She has a degree in English Literature from the University of East Anglia and a Masters in Marketing and Statistics from the University of Kingston. After fifteen years running a consultancy, she took a career break to bring up her four children, before returning to her first love, literature.
Her debut novel, The Joyce Girl, 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. Her short stories and journalism have appeared in various places including Mslexia, The Irish Times and the Huffington Post, and her blog, www.kaleandcocoa.com, featured in the Daily Telegraph in August 2015 and May 2016. She lives in London and Sussex with her family and an old labrador.
Annabel tweets on books, writing and the arts at @annabelabbs.
She sponsors a scholarship/bursary for a mature student on the UEA Creative Writing MA.