Review: ‘Lucy’ by Jamaica Kincaid

Page count: 164 | Published: 1985 | Rating: 4 stars!

Book Blurb:

Lucy, a teenage girl from the West Indies, comes to North America to work as an au pair for Lewis and Mariah and their four children. Lewis and Mariah are a thrice-blessed couple–handsome, rich, and seemingly happy. Yet, almost at once, Lucy begins to notice cracks in their beautiful facade. With mingled anger and compassion, Lucy scrutinizes the assumptions and verities of her employers’ world and compares them with the vivid realities of her native place. Lucy has no illusions about her own past, but neither is she prepared to be deceived about where she presently is.

At the same time that Lucy is coming to terms with Lewis’s and Mariah’s lives, she is also unravelling the mysteries of her own sexuality. Gradually a new person unfolds: passionate, forthright, and disarmingly honest. In Lucy, Jamaica Kincaid has created a startling new character possessed with adamantine clear sightedness and ferocious integrity–a captivating heroine for our time.

Review:

“I understood that I was inventing myself, and that I was doing this more in the way of a painter than in the way of a scientist.  I could not count on precision or calculation; I could only count on intuition. I did not have anything exactly in mind, but when the picture was complete I would know.” Pg 134.

Back in January I read ‘Annie John’ (Kincaid’s first novel, published in 1985) – I found it lacklustre; the main protagonist was petulant and annoying, her meandering stream of consciousness, whilst convincing, didn’t hold my attention.  I finished the book feeling conflicted, I’d heard such high praise for Kincaid but my expectations for the rest of her fictional works fell so low that I almost convinced myself that the wit and scathing critique displayed in ‘A Small Place’ was a fluke.  

In came ‘Lucy’ to dissipate my doubts – this book is beautifully written; words are used sparingly yet present a lucid account of our protagonist’s experiences and growth.  Lucy, a teen from the West Indies, migrates to the US to look after Lewis and Mariah’s four children. The couple are rich and happy – or so it seems; the facade soon cracks and their marriage starts to crumble.  In the midst of this Lucy goes on a journey of self-discovery; contrasting her life in the Caribbean with that of the US, exploring her sexuality and burgeoning independence.

Kincaid is exceptionally skilled at writing introspective protagonists – I definitely appreciated this more so with ‘Lucy’, I think the reason I struggled so much with ‘Annie John’ was that she was a precocious brat. Lucy was far more likeable (even when she blurred the lines between honesty and rudeness), and her journey more interesting to follow.  With Lucy, Kincaid touched on themes of the migrant experience, colonialism, gentrification/urban sprawl and white privilege. One of the things I loved most about this book is that Kincaid gave Lucy agency over her sexuality, she wasn’t swayed or influenced by her friends or societal norms which helped make this a really refreshing read – it’s definitely one I know I’ll pick up again.

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