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THE JOYCE GIRL BY ANNABEL ABBS

PUBLISHED BY IMPRESS BOOKS
REVIEW BY KAT ROBERTSON

James Joyce is now regarded as one of history’s greatest authors, but Ulysses was initially received as obscene, and was banned in the US and across the UK. In Paris, 1928, capturing the decent into “madness” of Joyce’s daughter Lucia, The Joyce Girl begins after Joyce’s most famous work was receiving critical acclaim. It only alludes to the troubled and sinister past through which the family suffered while fleeing scandal and poverty.

In 1934, her psychoanalysis by Carl Jung follows a therapeutic arroyo; Lucia’s dark, repressed thoughts dog her reminiscences about the 1920s and her rebellious relationship with her paramour, Samuel Beckett. Abbs beautifully expresses this largely through Lucia’s interest in dance, and integrates vivid physical actions such as breathing and touch to emphasise her struggle.

Lucia shares her goals and dreams, and how they are endlessly thwarted by circumstance. Her debilitating relationship with her mother, and the selfishness required by her father’s newfound success start to suffocate her, and her rebellion is almost inevitable. Lucia attempts to find a place for herself in the bohemian Parisian lifestyle, but her strict Irish mother disapproves of her dancing in modernist France. Abbs’ beautiful imagery captures 1920s Paris with a lucid and energetic depiction, making Lucia’s repression all the more devastating.

The Joyce Girl is everything one could want from a biographical novel: tremendous insight into the person in question, and a spirited depiction of her world. The novel’s very premise is ambitious, using so many well-known and revered personalities, but Abbs has succeeded admirably. The book also contains a profound insight into the trauma surrounding Joyce’s creation of Finnegan’s Wake. It seems sad, but almost inevitable to overlook Lucia and examine the intellectual heavyweights that surround her, but despite the overshadowing of her downfall, and the lofty names involved, the story of Lucia herself never get lost.

Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.