Lucia Cover


Alex Pheby

A unique insight into the life of Lucia Joyce, a professional dancer who lived in the shadow of her father, Irish writer, James Joyce.

This women had gone into the afterlife friendless and I resolved to address that lack.

Dark, psychological and heart-rending, to read Lucia is to read a book like no other. The title Lucia refers to the novel’s central focus: Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce and a woman whose history has been greatly concealed. Through a heavily fictionalised account, Pheby intricately and profoundly writes passages where he contemplates Lucia’s life. He writes of the abuse suffered in both her relationships and family, along with her treatment for schizophrenia by Carl Jung, and her institutionalisation. The themes of the novel are at times disturbing and overall it is a devastatingly painful read. However, Pheby’s sharp and distinct language is so enticing, you can’t put the book down. It is worth noting that the book is not a straight-forward read, Pheby skitters through different events without linear chronology, never directly informing the reader what the passage is referring to, this can leave you feeling lost but thoroughly entertained. It is only upon applying knowledge of Lucia Joyce and progressing through the novel that the whole text becomes clear and Pheby’s artistry is presented.

The book has feminist undertones as Pheby dedicates sections to the injustice that was present: how Lucia, a woman, was made to cater to the needs of men, how she viewed horrific acts and was subjected to poor treatment. Pheby seems to be championing this message further with the intent of the book: to give voice to Lucia and share her story. One of the book’s unusual features is the hieroglyphic illustrations that are present at each chapter, these form a guide on the burial rights performed in Egypt and the process of mummification, also, alongside it we read of a tomb being opened, a tomb that has been desecrated. Only upon reading the whole book does it become clear what Pheby is highlighting with these chapters.

In short, Lucia is an intense and thought-provoking read that seems to drift between narrative and analysis. Given its difficult and adult subject matter it is a book only suitable for adults. It may be considered challenging by some, given its unconventional style, but there is great satisfaction to be found in reading it, although the overall atmosphere is arguable bleak and depressing.

What did you think of the incorporation of hieroglyphs and instructions of the mummification process at the beginning of each chapter?

Do you think the excavator of the tomb is a reflection of Pheby himself?

Why do you think Pheby chose not to write Lucia’s story in chronological order? Was the time-hopping confusing?

The use of language is, at times, sharp and offensive. What effect does this have? Why do you think Pheby chose to use vocabulary which is seen as profane?

The novel clearly has a motivation, what do you think this is?

Pheby’s account of events seems very abstract. He doesn’t provide a clear indication of the focus of each chapter. As a result, how is the novel influenced by the reader’s interpretation?


Towards the end of the book, the narrator implies Lucia’s death by considering her burial, the options for her final resting place and those that were rejected, through which the inequality is highlighted between her and those associated with her. The novel then flicks back to her birth and the detachment with her mother that was instigated from the moment she wouldn’t take her mother’s breast.

Pheby ends the novel with a father monitoring his child as she plays with creepy crawlies in the garden. The child is joyous, entertaining herself with the wildlife, but the father’s response is sombre, leading the child indoors as the sky is overcast: ‘Come on. It’s about to rain’.

Alex Pheby currently teaches Creative Writing at the University of Greenwich.

His 2015 novel, Playthings was shortlisted for the 2016 Wellcome Book prize.

Lucia was the 2019 joint-winner of the Republic of Consciousness Prize.


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¡Fucking wonderful news! (Spanish punctuation and now switching to Spanish) Alex Pheby ha ganado el Premio @republicofconsciousness – el premio literario más inteligente en inglés (no sé si hay un equivalente en castellano). Son buenas noticias porque Pheby es un escritor extraordinario que merece el reconocimiento y lo mismo se puede decir de @galley_beggar_press como editorial, pero también porque pronto @cianavierailimitada va a publicar su libro anterior, #playthings – traducido como #marionetas – un libro tan, pero tan bueno que… Bueno, digamos que insistí con un poco de vehemencia que había que traducirlo. Estoy seguro que encontrará su publico en el mundo castellano. #bookstagram #instabook #literaturainglesa #alexpheby

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