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“Her case is cyclothymia, dating from the age of seven and a half. She is about thirty-three, speaks French fluently… Her character is gay, sweet and ironic, but she has bursts of anger over nothing when she is confined to a straitjacket.”
So wrote James Joyce in 1940, in a letter about his only daughter, Lucia. It is one of the few surviving contemporary portraits of her troubled life. Most other references to her have been lost. An attempt has been made to erase her from the pages of history.
We know she was the daughter of the famous writer. She was the lover of Samuel Beckett. She was a gifted dancer. From her late twenties she was treated for suspected schizophrenia – and repeatedly hospitalised. She spent the last thirty years of her life in an asylum.
And, after her death, her voice was silenced. Her letters were burned. Correspondence concerning her disappeared from the Joyce archive. Her story has been shrouded in mystery, the tomb door slammed behind her.
Alex Pheby’s extraordinary new novel takes us inside that darkness. In sharp, cutting shards of narrative, Lucia evokes the things that may have been done to Lucia Joyce. And while it presents these stories in vivid and heart-breaking detail, it also questions what it means to recreate a life. It is not an attempt to speak for Lucia. Rather, it is an act of empathy and contrition that constantly questions what it means to speak for other people.
Lucia is intellectually uncompromising. Lucia is emotionally devastating. Lucia is unlike anything anyone else has ever written.
ALEX PHEBY has masters degrees in critical theory and creative writing, and a doctorate in critical and creative writing from the UEA. He lives with his wife and two children in London, and teaches at the University of Greenwich. His second novel, Playthings, is also published by Galley Beggar Press and was shortlisted for the 2016 Wellcome Book Prize.