Book Review: The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs

The Joyce Girl - Annabel Abbs

As a student mental health nurse, I’m constantly on the lookout for novels featuring themes of mental health; to see how mental illness is portrayed, so when Mairead @ Swirl and Thread recommended I read The Joyce Girl, I listened, and I’m so glad I did.

Book Description:


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.


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.

My Thoughts:

The power of The Joyce Girl lies in it’s subtly; as you read the story of Lucia Joyce’s life, you see, in detail, her decent into “madness” and how she ended up in an asylum. When I first started reading this novel, it immediately struck me that there was something not quite right with Lucia’s family – her parents, in particular, were incredibly overbearing and her father had such a dominating role in her life. In my opinion, Lucia was never allowed to grow up, allowed any sort of independence and when you combine that with the men whose company she kept, her story makes for a sad one. And there were many times, during this novel, that I felt empathy towards Lucia; her passion for dance shone through, and it was rather upsetting to see her dreams fall apart.

Prior to reading this book, I knew it was based on a real person, but I’d be lying if I claimed to know anything about Lucia’s life before I picked up this novel. I found her life to be an incredibly interesting one, so captivating was the portrayal by Abbs that I was googling all the characters from this novel to find out more information about them. And, I really liked that at the end of this novel, Abbs gave a brief update on what happened to the key characters in Lucia’s life. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the events told, but this is a fictional account, and whether they deviate hugely from the reality, or not, makes no difference to me because I enjoyed reading it.

While I’ve made my enjoyment of this novel clear, I must mention Abbs is an incredibly talented writer, her powerful, beautiful and subtle writing style made me care about a woman I knew nothing about.

I have read numerous historical fiction books but historical fiction in the sub-genre of ‘biographical’ is a fairly new sub-genre to me – I thought the short chapters set in 1934, interspersed throughout, were very effective in that it wasn’t included simply for the ‘shock factor’ but because it was, sadly, Lucia’s life. And it did build up an element of suspense at what Lucia would disclose when she was ready to speak.

To know Lucia’s spent most of her life in and out of institutions really affected me, and I declare Lucia Joyce’s life a tragic one. Tragic but interesting, and whether you are familiar with the “big names” in this novel, such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, or curious about a bright future in dance that ended in institution after institution, I highly recommend you read The Joyce Girl.

This book is available to buy from: Amazon UK / Book Depository

*My thanks to Impress Books for providing me with a copy of this book*

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