Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Look At Me by Sarah Duguid

review by Maryom

Searching her father's desk for a telephone number, Lizzy stumbles across a letter; with its pink envelope and hint of scent, it immediately attracts her attention. Inside is something waiting to overturn Lizzy's comfortable world - the news that she has a younger half-sister, Eunice. Her father Julian thinks the matter should be dropped; his wife Margaret (who died two years ago) was fully aware of his other daughter, and 'cool' about the situation. Her brother, Ig, agrees; nothing can be gained by further contact. But Lizzy feels something more is needed, and gets in touch with Eunice. At first they meet for lunch but gradually Eunice works her way into their lives .... and then how do they get rid of her?

For Lizzy and Ig life so far has been pleasant and sheltered; living in studio-flats built in the garden, and sharing their parents' arty, hippy life-style, they seem to float through life unconcerned with practicalities, and despite being in their late twenties feel no need to grow up and move on. The death of their mother has added another barrier between them and the real world with their house becoming almost a shrine to their mother's memory - a place where time has stopped and everything is preserved as it was before Margaret died; all her clothes are kept, her jewellery and ornaments are just as she left them, nothing must be moved.
Into this atmosphere Eunice brings the  'everyday' world of dead end jobs and mortgages, and a huge dose of practicality. Cuckoo-like, she reorganizes, orders and moves things around to make space for herself, unwittingly trampling over memories and emotions as she does.

I really loved this debut novel; so much that it's hard to enumerate everything that delighted me. Certainly I loved the over-all feel of the laid-back bohemian lifestyle of Lizzy and family - where money seems to present no hindrance to following one's artistic life; wouldn't we all like to live like that? Then there's Lizzy's impulsive good nature which rapidly changes as she realises the trouble she's let into their lives. Or the way the author lets us in on the intimate details that make up a family, the way their lives slot together, and the way the dynamic changes with Eunice there, forcing her way in, altering things to suit her, while everyone seems paralysed to stop her.

To say 'psychological drama' too easily infers a thriller with death and destruction by the end, but this isn't that nature of drama. Instead it's a look at the under-currents of family life, the history and secrets they share, and the disruption one outsider can cause to a stable family group - with its light touch and occasional comic moments, particularly in regard to Lizzy's relationship with her director/lover, it reminded me of an Ayckbourn drama.
It's a wonderful first novel from Sarah Duguid and I hope there'll be many more.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
 Tinder Press
- Adult fiction, literary, family drama

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