Publisher: Tinder Press | Publication date: 25th February 2016
Feeling the pressure of domestic bliss is a family that is ‘familiar’ rather than ‘functioning’. Stuck in a limbo of grief, we watch their veneers crack until the very foundation their lives were built upon begins to crumble.
What happens when something, or someone, out of the blue comes along? It can place an enormous strain on existing relationships. In this case it’s adults craving affection in an emotional attention-seeking manner, especially this family with their established bonds and oddities they each tolerate, with or without their mum. Lizzie and Ig’s grief for her is stored away like their mother’s things, not quite being dealt with. Their father, Julian, appears stone mad, or sometimes just stoned, and there’s a shift occurring in the existence they have grown comfortable with over the years.
Lizzie and Ig perhaps should have moved out years ago. Despite embracing their own independence they never quite made it. Having their own bubble-like studios to retreat to when they feel the world is turning on them encouraged them to stay, contented and safe. But there’s a revelation they knew nothing about. Following a chance discovery in her father’s study, Lizzie finds a letter indicating they have a sister they knew nothing about. Apparently their mother was aware of the child Julian fathered, but took the secret to her grave without sharing it with her own children.
Impulsive Lizzie contacts their mysterious sibling, Eunice, and invites her to visit them without considering the implications. After her mother’s death there’s a big hole left behind in Lizzie’s life. I’m not sure if she believes she’s being a good Samaritan, or if a sister will fill the void, but when a stranger rolls up and longs to be a part of their dysfunctional life should Lizzie offer her a piece of it, or feel the need to protect it from covetous eyes?
It appears there’s much for Lizzie to come to terms with and we find out more about that much later in the book. Until then, the overbearing Eunice is gentling rocking their family until it makes them all sick. For a jobbing actress, Lizzie is surprisingly unable to disguise her emotions. She watches from the wings as her new sister performs in the parental spotlight, while most of the crowd is unappreciative.
Abandonment, realisation, acceptance, and letting go all play their part in this wonderfully written production – as a series of ‘Acts’ in a play, it’s the perfect choice of presentation to allow the continual drama to flow to the last page. The story is lightened by intermissions of humour, particularly from Aunt Valerie whose antics gave her the best lines to rebuff those who deserved it, while being prone to the occasional outburst of rage – I wouldn’t condone her actions, but she was pretty magnificent in places! The rest of the characters were cast perfectly in their roles too.
Look At Me is a simply marvellous invention of fiction. It’s a beaut of a read and a perfect match for that spectacularly delightful cover. Recommend it? Absolutely!
Lizzy lives with her father, Julian, and her brother, Ig, in North London. Two years ago her mother died, leaving a family bereft by her absence and a house still filled with her things: for Margaret was lively, beautiful, fun, loving; she kept the family together. So Lizzy thinks. Then, one day, Lizzy finds a letter from a stranger to her father, and discovers he has another child. Lizzy invites her into their world in an act of outraged defiance. Almost immediately, she realises her mistake.
Look at Me is a deft exploration of family, grief, and the delicate balance between moving forward and not quite being able to leave someone behind. It is an acute portrayal of how familial upheaval can cause misunderstanding and madness, damaging those you love most.
Sarah Duguid grew up on a farm in North Lincolnshire and was educated in Derbyshire and at Durham University where she read English Literature. After university, she lived and worked in New York and South Africa before returning to London where she now lives with her partner and their son. She is currently working on a Masters in English at UCL as well as her second novel.