The Joyce Girl: Annabel Abbs 4 Stars
Author: Annabel Abbs
Publication date: 30 Aug 2016
Page count: 368
Imprint: Hachette Australia
Source: Hachette Australia
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 Madox 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.
After many years of moving around, the Joyce family, Giorgio, Lucia and their parents James and Nora were now settled in their home in the Square Robiac.
The Twenties in Paris were known as the “Années Folles” - the Crazy Years, a time of massive cultural change encompassing art, literature, music and fashion. The publication of Ulysses had made James Joyce a literary star, everyone wanted to know him. People gave their time freely to read to him or to help in other ways.
Though they appeared to live lavishly at times, Joyce spent his patrons monetary contributions on maintaining this lifestyle, his family were always short of money.
The opening chapter:
It is now 1934 and twenty-seven year old Lucia Joyce is taking the short ferry trip from Zurich to Kusnacht. Three times a week she does this to keep her appointment with Dr. Jung, the eminent Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist. As part of her treatment, Lucia agrees to write a memoir of what has led her to this point in life:
“I know where to start my memoir” I say. I shall start with the first stirrings of desire and ambition that pushed their way, like the greedy tendrils of a weed, into my young heart. Because that was the beginning. No matter what anyone else says, that was the beginning. (p6)
This then, is how the story is told, moving back in time to Paris 1928 which Lucia deemed to be “the beginning,” at intervals, moving forward again to 1934 to Kusnacht and another session with Dr. Jung.
The beginning for Lucia was 1928, her father arranged a special dinner to celebrate the fabulous review she received from The Paris Times for her debut dance performance. At this time, Lucia was enamoured with the young composer Emile Fernandez , but this was not to last long. Samuel Beckett came to the Joyce house to visit with Babbo (her father) and, as soon as she met him she felt an “overwhelming emotion,” consequently losing her desire for the composer. At this news Giorgio, her brother, became angry with her for rejecting a man who could have provided for her (and her family) very well indeed. Giorgio hated his impoverished life and now he and Lucia, once so close, began to drift apart.
When Nora Joyce was hospitalised for a gynaecological procedure James Joyce arranged for Giorgio and Lucia to stay with Mrs. Fleischman, a wealthy woman who, wanting to be close to the great man, would come to the house to type his notes for no payment. It was during this stay that Lucia discovered that Giorgio was receiving something rather more than motherly care from the much older and still married Mrs. Fleischman, neither Giorgio nor Mrs. Fleischmann seemed the least bit ashamed. Lucia was appalled by their relationship, later blaming herself because she believed that if she had married Emile Fernandez, Giorgio need not have chased Mrs. Fleischman’s money. Lucia and Giorgio were never to be close again.
Lucia submerged herself in dance and practiced her routines for hours every day. She was to take part in the International Festival of Dance and, as was her way, wanted to be perfect. Not just for herself and Babbo, Mr. Beckett was to attend and she could barely contain her excitement at the thought of performing before him.
Lucia was a great success, but now she decided she could not possibly become the greatest dancer unless she studied classical ballet, and with her usual dedication, undertook a gruelling schedule of classes and practice. She was distraught when her parents caused her to miss weeks of class and practice by insisting she accompany them on a trip.
When she returned, Madame Egorova saw how her skills had deteriorated and decided she must drop down a class. Mortified and despondent at her lack of progress Lucia gave up ballet, she and her best friend Kitten decided to offer dance classes but this too failed.
She saw Beckett as an escape route, she had created the scenario that they would marry, that marriage was the only way she would ever gain her independence. She really believed this story in her head and had planned each detail of the wedding. Sadly for her it was not to happen, the story in her head was far different to the one in Becketts. He told her the truth, that he did not care for her in that way, another dream had been shattered.
This then seemed to be the pattern for Lucia's' life, whatever dreams she had for her career were thwarted by her parents. Whichever lover she took would let her down.
I enjoyed this story very much, the author writes in a very easy to read style and gives the reader a wonderful sense of those times, people and places. I can't begin to guess at how many hours of research was undertaken to complete this book.
What I didn't like so much
A couple of things gnawed at my enjoyment of this otherwise fine tale
A certain revelation made during a session with Dr. Jung came as quite a nasty shock, for one thing it didn't really seem to fit well with the rest of the story and if that scene is only from the authors imagination then it was a very unpleasant addition.
The other aspect that did not sit well with me is the way Nora is presented. She is the only character who is given an accent, possibly to draw attention to her lack of education or to reflect her character? Also the author does imply that Nora's mothering style is to blame for the state of Lucias mental health by having Lucia herself blaming her mother during one of her session with Dr. Jung.
That could well be very hard to read for those mothers of troubled children.
However, the author does make it very clear that this is a work of fiction, still, having previously read about these characters in biographies I did find it difficult to see them presented in a different light.
Review copy provided by Hachette Australia
Annabel Abbs generously funds a scholarship for a MA
she is also donating the first year UK royalties to a UK charity for troubled young people and children. Please visit her website for further details