Fiction Book Reviews

Literary Fiction | The Joyce Girl | Annabel Abbs

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When I hosted Annabel earlier this month I said that The Joyce Girl was a poignant read and had got under my skin.  Whilst that is true, I also think the interesting answers from Annabel give the story added depth.  She immersed herself totally with her research, experiences and always questioning.  Which of course led to this absorbing and emotional story which won The Impress Prize.

Book Cover The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abs

Paperback: 350 pages

Publisher: Impress Books (16 Jun. 2016)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1907605878

ISBN-13: 978-1907605871

1928 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.

1934 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.

Inspired by a true story, ‘The Joyce Girl’ is a compelling and moving account of thwarted ambition and the destructive love of a father.


Beginning in 1934 at one of Lucia’s sessions with Carl Jung who is not really getting anywhere because she is closed down and not cooperating, he suggests she writes her memories down – a memoir.  Her memoirs tell us the past while occasionally the story takes us back to her therapy sessions.  This format worked really well for me allowing me to become absorbed in Lucia’s life in 1928 but also a reminder that there is something motivating her behaviours.

The Joyce family and their lives feels very insular and stultifying.  In 1928 there are already cracks showing in Lucia’s sibling relationship with Giorgio.  Drawn together through those early years of poverty they now seem to want different things from life.  Lucia is caught up in her dancing but always having to pacify her mother and do what her father wants.  Such a heavy burden of responsibility for a young woman to take on – those expectations.  You would expect your parents to support you with all opportunities that come your way.  Not so when those parents expect you to put all your needs aside to meet theirs … I must admit that after I had finished reading I watched James Joyce’s bio on YouTube which certainly explained the pattern of parenting.

In my experience, insecurities and ill mental health often shows itself as analysing and questioning incessantly.  To know something is to have control over it.  I did find Lucia exhausting at times but I think Annabel has this exactly right.  All that creativity just needed channeling instead of being turned inwards.

And talking of creativity, as you would expect – you’ll find plenty in The Joyce Girl.  Annabel’s writing style creates the perfect atmosphere.  The circles they moved in, the settings, the time and the place feel very real.  The rainbow dance gave me goosebumps – so beautiful and inspiring.  There’s absolutely no doubt how much Annabel immersed herself because it’s here in her beautifully crafted story.

Lucia was never going to have that soul connection she so desperately wanted.  I admired her strength in coping with certain situations.  Although I had worked it out, the scene with Jung was terrifying.  What a skill to be able to take a reader to the depths with words alone.

I didn’t know anything about Lucia Joyce before I read The Joyce Girl.  I can understand why Annabel felt such anger that this woman from history was just a footnote.  The Historical Note at the end of the story is poignant and shows how ill mental health was perceived at the time.  Such a waste of life.  I hope Annabel’s story blending fact and fiction will bring Lucia’s name into the spotlight.

In memory of Lucia Joyce, all of Annabel’s profits from royalties earned during the first year of sales will be donated to the charity YoungMinds. YoungMinds campaigns for the improved mental health and wellbeing of children and young adults in the UK.

Connect with Annabel


Twitter @annabelabbs

Twitter @The_JoyceGirl

Facebook Page abbsannabel

The Joyce Girl won the 2015 Impress Prize.

I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 9+ years. My love of reading, crocheting, being out in nature and positive psychology are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school.

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