Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot

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Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary M Talbot and Bryan Talbot
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Genre: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A quite charming surprise as the lives of two females we know little of are intertwined with - as usual - excellent artwork.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 96 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 9780224096089

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If there's one person able to produce a worthwhile potted history of James Joyce's daughter, it should be Mary M Talbot. She's an eminent academic, and her father was a major Joycean scholar. Both females had parents with the same names too - James and Nora, both took to the stage when younger after going to dance school, but it's the contrasts between them this volume subtly picks out rather than any similarities, in a dual biography painted by one person we know by now as more than able to produce a delightful graphic novel - Bryan Talbot.

Mary takes herself from her '50s childhood through to university and the start of a family. The life she offers is one of being more than daunted by her father, and one that grew to fear the weight of the back of his hand. There's definitely no sliding down the banisters for her; whereas Joyce encouraged that in his Lucia. Children should be educated by love, not punishment, he is quoted as having said. But by the end one daughter reaches the threshold of a happy adult career, the other touches international fame, yet is stymied and ends tragically.

Bryan Talbot of course is on hand to design his wife's plotting superbly. The 1950s and 1960s are sepia, with just a touch of other colours where most relevant on each page, which is a brilliant look. There's a lovely touch too in Mary's hairstyles changing through the ages, until both Talbots emerge regrettably as token ban-the-bomb hippies - thankfully they've got both got a more distinguished look in the current day.

Lucia Joyce lives in a darker, bluer world, one of monochrome ink and paint. But there's a vivacity to the images, befitting the more Art Deco times and modern dancing she became famous for. Talbot regularly shifts away from the familiar page grids of his form, but that - and the unusual fishtails on the dialogue as opposed to fully enclosed speech balloons - does not stop this from being a very readable graphic novel, even for the novitiate.

It's a biography brilliant at leaving 'what ifs' hanging in the air. Would Lucia have been fully successful growing up just a generation or two later? How much different would Mary have turned out if given a spanking less now and again? Beyond such speculation the facts as writ (and drawn) are excellent. Mary's weeny footnotes about Bryan's artwork show the pair had fun collaborating, and despite this being a small tale of a famous daughter, and a nostalgic look at someone you probably know nothing of, together they're excellent - and I mean both the pair of creators and also the pair of stories.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

Being rather male-oriented by tradition, the graphic novel form does not touch on female lives as regularly as it should - Dragonslippers: This is What an Abusive Relationship Looks Like by Rosalind Penfold does so in a nightmarishly predictable way, as does Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield.

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