A deserving Winner of the Costa Biography award, this book is a revelation. If you have never read a graphic novel or indeed a graphic memoir as this is, then give this a try. Intertwining her own childhood and the relationship between her and her father; Joycean scholar James S. Atherton with the relationship between Joyce and his daughter Lucia, this is a wonderful portrait of difficult relationships and growing up female in the twentieth century. Bryan Talbot is well established as a comic book writer and artist but it is Mary M Talbot’s first foray into the area, she is most famous for her books on language and gender, having taught at a number of universities, she is now a freelance writer. The book is sometimes sad but it is also funny and fiercely intelligent. The pairing of the writing and illustration is often painfully poignant particularly as it touches on Lucia’s declining mental health mirrored in James Atherton's own decline. There is a love of language and reading emphasised from the beginning, opening as it does with the lines from Finnegan’s Wake "my cold mad feary father".
There are many parallels between Mary and Lucia; they both have parents called Nora and Jim, they both have a hard time asserting themselves against their domineering parents, they are both fiercely ambitious. However Lucia found her ambitions thwarted by her parents repeated dismissal of her dancing and insistence on moving to
in 1931. When she tried to press them to let her stay James Joyce replied
"Lucia dearest, you needn't trouble yourself about career. As your dear mother knows, as long as
you know how to walk into a room properly, that is all that matters."
The looks on her parents’ faces say it all; the very idea of her having a
career is disdainful. Lucia's first break down happened not long after. London
Growing up through the sixties and seventies Mary has an entirely different career pursuing her academic dream despite; not instead of marriage and motherhood.
I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in 20th Century history especially the changing lives of women and to anyone who has ever been a daughter.