Saving Lucia is the first book of indie publisher’s Bluemoose’s year of publishing women only. Bluemoose is one of my most exciting Book Twitter discoveries – this is the second book published by them that I have read, and I have three more waiting on my shelf. Do check them out on Twitter @Ofmooseandmen. They do brilliant things.
Onto the book itself: I have only just finished it, and my mind is still fizzing. It is, quite simply, a true work of art. I am hugely concerned that I won’t be able to do this brilliant book justice here, so I am tentatively (and perhaps appropriately) subtitling this review “Initial Impressions From an Over-Stimulated Mind” as I guarantee you now I will be revisiting this book, and it will be in my thoughts for a long time.
I can’t remember the last time a book made me feel so intellectually excited. The premise, as laid out in the blurb, is in itself enough to set my thoughts spinning:
“How would it be if four silenced women went on a tremendous adventure, reshaping their pasts and futures as they went?”
Well, let me tell you, it would be a literary rollercoaster, a delicious journey through some of the finest writing I have encountered for a long time. Vaught teeters gracefully on the boundary poetry and prose, building in motifs and refrains that bring to mind music, visual arts, and the very best of literary traditions. The book reads like a classical work, richly woven with references and wide-ranging knowledge, and yet it is also something entirely new. We do not so much follow the four women, psychiatric patients all, as enter into their consciousnesses, and it is a thrilling experience.
Lady Violet Gibson, who once attempted to assasinate Mussolini, is an engaging, funny, utterly unique character, and I was as eager as Lucia Joyce, forgotten daughter of James Joyce, to join her on her imaginative adventures. This is an intellectual book, but it is also brimming over with love, and the friendship between the two women at the heart of the book is beautifully depicted. The trust they place in each other as they, along with Bertha and Blanche, dash through time and space, seemed to me to absolutely capture the essence of the best of female friendship. We see each other’s flaws, but we love each other full-heartedly anyway – unlike with a lover, we do not have to internalise those flaws – they do not hurt us in the same way. (Oh, how I miss my female friends! V, A, M – I love you!)
There is also such a spirit of generosity in this book, built into its very structure. Violet asks Lucia to set down this story, trusting her implicitly to do right by these women who have been so wronged and silenced by society. And Lucia rises to the challenge: the first person voice used by all four protagonists blends into a beautiful harmony. At first, it requires intense concentration to follow who is speaking, but gradually the reader’s attention is rewarded by it becoming easier and easier to know whose voice we are in. This is a marvellous achievement by Vaught, and I am going to have to go back and puzzle out how she pulls it off.
This is a book that demands close reading, but that attention more than pays off. I had a couple of instances of feeling so deeply connected to the text that I felt it like a tug in my chest: the first was when I was doing my usual thing of trying to work out what the book reminded me of – it is highly original, but I had just begun to think that it called to mind The Waves, which I finally read last year, when on the next page I read the phrase “a room of one’s own” and then a few pages later Woolf herself was referred to. I honestly get so excited by these psychic coincidences when I am reading! And I had another one – I had been thinking all the time I was reading that I wanted to write an essay about this book, to make notes, to research the background which is so richly mined by Vaught, and then Lucia herself gave gentle permission for the scribbling of notes in the margin, and, I admit, I thanked her out loud. You get me, Lucia.
There is so much I haven’t even touched on here – the nuanced exploration of mental illness and the destructive objectifying of these women by their societies, the astounding depth of the historical research which lends Vaught’s book authority even as she subverts and plays with the official historical narrative, the recurring motif of the passerines whose wingbeats echo throughout the story…I could go on!
As you can no doubt tell, this book has left me buzzing. It hits that sweet spot for me that the work of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood does – imaginative flights of fancy combined with so much profound truth and beauty that my mind and my heart feel full. This book is a gift.
Saving Lucia is out now and is available to purchase directly from the publishers here.
Anna Vaught’s website has lots of fascinating information about the book and the history behind it: www.annavaughtwrites.com