“Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes”, Mary Talbot and Lucia Joyce

“Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes” by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot  (2013) – 90 pages

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Let me tell you about this unusual book.  First it is a graphic novel, not so uncommon these days, but it is a smart graphic novel, not a dumb one, and I like that.  It is illustrated by Bryan Talbot who apparently is quite famous in the comic book world.  But “Dotter of my Father’s Eyes” is far from your typical comic book.  It juxtaposes the story of two daughters who share an interest in dance. However the two girls never meet each other.  One girl is Lucia (pronounced Lu CHEE a) Joyce, daughter of Irish novelist James Joyce and his woman friend.  The other girl is Mary M. Talbot, daughter of James Joyce scholar James S. Atherton.

Early on in the story, it is revealed that Lucia Joyce spent the last 30 years of her life in a mental institution.   “Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes” deals with Lucia’s life before that time.  At that point James Joyce is still an unpublished writer struggling to support his woman friend chambermaid Nora Barnacle and their two children.  During the span covered, James Joyce publishes “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and “Ulysses” and thereby becomes perhaps the most famous writer in the world.   At the same time Lucia Joyce becomes a dance phenomenon in Paris.  Later she is romantically involved with the author Samuel Becket.

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Mary Talbot uses her childhood brush with the dance world as a means of approaching Lucia Joyce’s life.  So we get scenes of Mary Talbot’s home life as well.  Both Mary and Lucia must deal with difficult parents.  In Lucia’s case it is mainly her mother who is a barrier.  In Mary’s life her father has a difficult personality.   However the book does not make the mistake of depicting the two girls’ lives as just too parallel.

“Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes” won the Costa prize for Biography this year, what I consider an amazing feat for a graphic novel.  I can imagine how some of the writers who wrote huge in-depth biographical tomes about their subjects must feel.  But I am all for the new and different, and a graphic novel about the literary world has a strong appeal for me.  This book is a delight.  The story is well told and not too obvious.  The art work enhances the story and fortunately does not have that shrill quality that sometimes puts me off comic books.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Have been wanting to read this book. Thank you for the lovely review!

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  2. Hi Amritorupa,
    I didn’t hear about this book until it started winning awards. It’s surprising that an audiobook award would win the Costa Award for biography, but I can see why.

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