This graphic novel tells two stories: that of the childhood of Mary Talbot, daughter of the eminent Joyce scholar James Atherton (and now respected academic in her own right), and that of Lucia, daughter of James Joyce himself. Neither of these tales is an easy one: Atherton is a bad-tempered and domineering presence in Mary’s life – her ‘cold mad feary father’ – whose charm and wit are reserved for public display only. Lucia, on the other hand, has her ambitions to become a dancer cut short by the demands of James Joyce’s literary career and the pressures of social expectation. The work is illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Mary’s husband and author of a number of highly-regarded graphic novels including The Tale of One Bad Rat and Alice in Sunderland, and his exceptional draftsmanship and stylistic range are employed here to great effect. Each page is beautifully composed, and a number of deft visual motifs provide a visual counterpoint to Mary’s words: under his pen and brush, eyes become abstracted to single dots except at moments of emotional resonance or crisis; Mary’s childhood becomes awash with a nicotine fug of greys, browns and yellows; whilst Lucia’s life in Paris is rendered in an austere palette of blues and whites.
Above all, what marks this book is its lightness of touch. Though the reader is invited to make comparisons between the two lives, the accomplishment with which the narratives are intertwined ensures that these juxtapositions are neither forced nor heavy-handed, and the result is a work that is both subtle and moving.