The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

a book review

 

image of The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs book cover

 

When I was seventeen, there was a Guggenheim exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I went there with my art class, and returned, time and again. It was a window into the world of my art text books. Here they were. I stood as close as I could to Brancusi’s, Calder’s, Dali’s, Moore’s and Mondrian’s. I breathed the air next to them like I might catch some ions of genius leaking from the very spirit of each work. I stood back and squinted at them, turned my head and observed them in their minutae. It seemed to me, a spotty gangly teenager in a distant antipodean gallery, that these foreign artists were the master race; their works a gift from the greatest muse of creative expression. The soul of life itself.

The Joyce Girl is Annabel Abbs’ inspired story of an Irish girl in the 1930’s. She lives in Paris, right in the midst of the bohemian art world of my Guggenheim heroes. A dancer, dreamer and artist, Lucia lives in a straightjacket world of obligation and overwhelm. She is the daughter of James Joyce, celebrated writer.  She is known historically as integral to the production of Joyce’s lengthy work, Finnegan’s Wake. She is caught in the undertow of her father’s work, sublimated by her roles as dependent daughter and co-dependent muse. Her own genius, obscured first by the narcissism of her father, despised by her mother and brother and later destroyed by the inept machinations of mental asylums, is explored first hand. She is finally given voice by the author Annabel Abbs in this novel. Heavily based in the facts of Lucia Joyce’s life, we see first hand the struggles of a troubled girl trying to make sense of herself.

“An ephemeral arch of colour, swaying and dissolving. Flashes of imprisoned light. Trembling loops of movement. A wind washed rainbow, my bands of colour shivering and melting. I crouched and twisted. Needles of rain, spiked and hard. I stretched and spread my fingers, soft rays of warm sunlight. I was a swathe of luminous colour. I was the gold-skinned weaver of the wind. Sun-spangled sovereign of the cosmos”  -Annabel Abbs ‘The Joyce Girl’

I loved many things about this book. But, oh, Abbs’ descriptive passages of dancing! She is expert in describing this artform with a keen sense of the visceral experience of dance. I realised that my legs and feet were flexing and moving as I read, and I do love a book that transcends the brain barrier.  I enjoyed Abbs’ turn of phrase; sometimes, I felt she was touched by a Joyce-ian way with words which added depth and relevance to the experience of reading this book. It was immersive.

I so loved the characterisations of some of the artists I had studied as a teenager. That world of Bohemian Paris, where artists came for freedom and connection, was painted with a vivid hand. I felt like I had stepped inside my Guggenheim exhibition. That I could walk alongside Alexander Calder and listen to him expound on shape, form and movement. It was transporting.  And when the time came to explore the deeper psyche of Lucia, Abb’s sensitive writing captured the child Lucia with care. It was emotionally difficult to read, but a necessary and bittersweet journey with Lucia through the dark travails of her mind.

Most of all, I loved that Abbs gave Lucia’s story an audience. I doubt that before reading this novel, I would have read Carol Loeb Schloss’ biography of Lucia Joyce’s life, To Dance in the Wake. But now, I will. Lucia is a woman of history, of art, of feminism, whose story should be told. Abbs’ story of Lucia; childhood trauma, repressed memory, subjugation, dysfunctional family relationships, unrequited love, unfulfilled ambition and incarceration… I am certain is an echo of the many women whose independence and freedom were stolen during times when mental institutions were dangerous places and Psychology a fledgling discipline.

My own Great Grandmother was institutionalised when her children were very small. Now we assume she had undiagnosed postnatal depression. But I wonder who she really was, and now there is no way of knowing. These stories should be told. These voices should be heard.

I recommend The Joyce Girl. Thank you Annabel Abbs for writing this important novel.  I will take it with me on my own metaphorical dance of independence and freedom.

 

Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/07/Lucia_Joyce_dancing_at_Bullier_Ball_-_Paris%2C_May_1929.jpg
Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/07/Lucia_Joyce_dancing_at_Bullier_Ball_-_Paris%2C_May_1929.jpg

 

create, if…

 

Create, if …you are feeling dull. Or yearning to be transported away from your troubles. Create if you’d like to have that old feeling of personal growth, inner joy, childlike abandon. Create if you know what is good for you, because creating things surely makes us hum from the inside out. It’s in the making from nothing that we discover that long forgotten something about our human state. We need to create to feel content.

Maybe it is food, or babies(!) or lasting love. Maybe it is macrame, or dresses, or miniature worlds. Maybe it is art, or an approximation of art. Whatever it is; making something from the uniqueness of yourself and letting it exist in the world is creating. It’s a magical thing. Within the experience of creating there is soulfood and education for life itself. When I create,  I learn about myself. Go create, if you want to know what I am talking about. Just find your thing, and begin to do it. Create something.  Even if it’s not up to your own standards, let it be just as it is. There is a lot to be said for being kind to yourself about your own creations. What follows is kindness to yourself about other things too, and we all need that.

The last few weeks I have been loving Pip Lincolne’s series for slumpy creatives. She is so good at bringing out the best in people.  And so kind. Reading her words is like listening to a friend talk. All kinds of good.

It has coincided with a new thing I am doing. You may have seen some of it on my instagram feed. I’ve joined the #drawsomethingeveryday movement. Not because I necessarily have the time for it, or the even the desire to do it every day, but because I need it.  When I draw, it distracts me from pain and helps me hold out longer between pills.  When I draw, I remember that I have a natural ability that I haven’t been using. It’s good to no longer be neglecting it. When I draw, it gives back to me. Repose, reflection, peacefulness. It gives me a little circle of calm. The process of creation interrupts the noise and pressure of life. I like that very, very much.

 

Starting something new today….

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

Over the next wee while, I’ll be featuring a few creative types on my blog. They’ll talk about why they create and how the process works for them. Watch this space…

Do you create?  Are you creative?
(PS. I love the way my title, “create, if” sounds like a German person saying the word “creative”, hehe.  I LOVE accents)

 

A picture of pain #drawsomethingeveryday

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

 

Teacher tools. Not all are created equal! #drawsomethingeveryday

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

#drawsomethingeveryday Still in progress. …. but dinner prep waits for no mumma. …

A photo posted by Rachel Cox (@rachelfaithcox) on

Mothering Myself

This morning I woke up in my hotel room, feeling rested and calm. I stretched one foot out to the right, one arm out to the left, sliding them along the crisp white hotel sheets that I would never have to heave out of the washing machine.  The smile spread from the corners of my mouth all the way to my ears while my eyes stayed shut. It was beautiful. I’d gone to bed at 9pm and my watch informed me that eleven hours had passed between. Eleven. Deep sleeping hours!

For the good of our souls, sometimes just need a break from all the relational roles we carry.(2)

I woke, packed up my things and prepared for the day. I’m down in the hotel bar now having a coffee before I meet the beautiful Sarah, in person, at last. She’s an all-time favourite blogger of mine. The coffee was made for me by a barista who spoke about the complexity of the bean with an earnestness. I smiled at him, but thought about how I will not have to stack that cup in the dishwasher, or refill a kettle, or check the expiry date on that milk.  Just drink it.

I am such a fan of Sarah, as a writer and a person. Meeting her is very important to me.  I can’t wait to wrap her up in a big hug of thanks. To enjoy food and conversation with her and Annette from I Give You the Verbs! Dear Kate had to go and do some very exciting new work stuff, but you can check out her blog here (next time, Kate!) After our bloggy brunch, Miss Annette and I are lighting off for the Yarra Valley for a girls weekend. We’ll take the meandering way, and she promises that I can stop and take pictures to my heart’s content along the way.

Sarah, Annette and Rach
Sarah, Annette and Rach

This trip to Melbourne is something I’ve been longing to do for years. A chance to revisit my past, reconnect with people I haven’t seen for years and finally meet some I’ve been talking to online for a long time. But even more than the gorgeousness of all that, this trip, for me, is all about respite. I just needed to take some time out from all of the ‘adulting’ and be me, on my own, for a bit. The Rach who isn’t looking after anyone but herself, just for a few days.  I need to mother myself.

I need to stretch out, on a big big bed, all alone. To stand next to my soul sisters and spread my arms wide to the sky. To sleep and wake when I feel like it. To please myself doing anything I feel like doing; compromise free. I’ve explored, I’ve shopped, I’ve chatted and I’ve been blissfully quiet. I’ve drunk wine, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane at my old boarding school, I’ve eaten anything and everything I feel like eating without a single bite being cooked by me.

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It’s been gloriously selfish and deeply important for me to do all that.

When you become a mum, you don’t know that you are becoming something other than an ‘individual’. It’s something you have to learn. And once you have learned that by heart, there won’t be respite for a long, long time. My kids are now 8 and 11. The teenagers are now 17 and 18. The family has grown to a point that I’ve been able to set them up to manage their lives without me for a few days. The hubster is doing a stellar job with them. Their schedules are all being met.

I could probably have done this earlier, but I wasn’t internally strong enough to push for it. Sometimes, even with great families, it does take pushing for it. You have to fight for yourself the way you’d fight for your brood.

Respite is something we need to fight for as women, as givers, as mothers and wives. For the good of our souls, sometimes women just need a break from all the relational roles we carry. Freedom to just be ourselves, to turn the nurturing inward. To have a rest from all of that responsibility.  That’s what I’m doing.

I highly recommend it.

It might not be a trip to Melbourne. Maybe, if you have one, it’s a visit to your Mum’s place. Or camping in the spring, all alone. Or a solo movie. It might be a journey to see your cousin, or a drive down winding country roads. Find your respite, sisters of mine. I promise it will feed your soul and bring you joy.

It might be easier than you imagine to make it happen.

Go on.  Tell yourself to have and break and then, for goodness’ sake: go do what you’ve been told!