I’m still not entirely sure what I think about Julie Sarkissian’s Dear Lucy but perhaps by the time I’ve written this I’ll be a little clearer. It has more puffs from authors I admire on its jacket than I’ve seen adorning a first novel for some time including Alison Moore, Jess Richards, Ron Rash, Sarah Rayner and, yes, the ubiquitous Joyce Carol Oates. It’s told through a variety of narrative voices but mainly through Lucy, a young girl with learning difficulties who has been lodged along with a pregnant teenager on a farm owned by the god-fearing Mister and Missus.
Lucy and Samantha have become unlikely friends. Samantha tries to teach Lucy to read and encourages her to come away with her when the baby is born but Lucy is reluctant, adamant that she must stay on the farm where her mother can find her. She’s become too much for Mum mum whose time is taken up with her new boyfriend in the city. The story unfolds in a tangled web of misunderstandings which Lucy tries her best to straighten out with the help of the chick she names Jennifer who gives her the courage to do all sorts of things she would not have otherwise done. It’s a novel about motherhood and childlessness. Samantha finds that she cannot hand over her son to Mister and Missus once he is born. Missus has become so crazed with guilt at her inability to give Mister the son she thinks he deserves that she will do anything. There’s a mystery around their adopted daughter, Stella. When Missus takes Samantha’s baby away from her, Lucy determines that she must get him back and courageously sets about reuniting them.
Whether or not you enjoy Dear Lucy will depend very much on how you respond to Lucy’s voice. She describes herself as not ‘having the right words’ but at times her voice is graphically vivid: ‘Sadness was squeezing Mum mum’s insides so the crying kept coming out’ – and at others quite beautiful: waving is described as ‘This is how branches dance in the wind.’ She’s intensely loving: the descriptions of her longing for her mother are particularly poignant. The narrative rattles along at quite a pace when Lucy is on the trail of Samantha’s baby, becoming quite compulsive, and Sarkissian wisely resists making any of her characters into villains despite the terrible mistakes that are made. It’s a very brave idea for a first novel – comparisons to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time are inevitable, and I’m sure have already been made – but I think, on the whole, it comes off. So, in the end, I’m convinced.
I acquired my own little friend at some point over the weekend, either out on one of our walks in the country or at Fulham Palace gardens. I didn’t give it a name although I did call it a nasty little sucker and had it forcibly removed on Wednesday. It was a tick, and apparently there are lots more around than usual thanks to the wet winter. So, if you enjoy walking you may want to think about keeping yourself covered. I certainly intend to do so.