I happened to be in my local library the day the category winners for the Costa Book Awards were announced. I had no idea which books might triumph in their categories as I had only read Life! Death! Prizes! by Steven May which was up in the novel category and subsequently missed out to the seemingly unbeatable Hilary Mantel. But only hours before the category winners announcement on 2nd January, I was browsing the shelves and noticed a lovely little display celebrating the Costa nominees, resplendent with brand new copies of all the nominated books. Imagine – books with virgin spines, just asking to be cracked and you don’t even have to pay for them to do it! Having just made my reading resolutions for 2013 I decided against borrowing any of the narrative novels on offer, but snatched up the two graphic novels. Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart was shortlisted in the novel category and Dotter of her Father’s Eyes by Mary Talbot and illustrated by her husband Bryan Talbot was shortlisted and eventually won in the biography category. It’s almost unheard of for a graphic novel to win a mainstream award, so it’s already a double win for them. Will it go on to win the overall Costa Award tonight?
Dotter of her Father’s Eyes is beautiful before you open it. The hardback has a lovely silky feel to it. The cream cover featuring the pencil drawing of a little girl, the old typewriter font for the title and the splash of colour used for the author names made me want to dive in immediately. It doesn’t disappoint. As an aside, let me mention that ever since she’s seen the cover of this book, my 6 year old has insisted on having similar plaits in her hair when she goes to school and it does make her look so cute!
Dotter of her Father’s Eyes tells two coming-of-age stories connected by James Joyce. Mary Talbot’s father was an internationally renowned Joycean scholar, married to his research. Lucia Joyce was the daughter of the famous Irish author destined for an early life of instability as her family moved frequently before his work found acclaim. The stories of their formative years are intertwined with Joyce as the link. Joyce and his wife had a profound affect on Lucia’s future as a dancer and independent woman and Mary Talbot’s father was so engrossed in his work as a Joyce expert that he often paid little attention to his daughter and certainly struggled to understand her.
This story is not just about how James Joyce affected the lives of these two women, it is also about the experiences of being a women at two different points in the twentieth century. Lucia was born in 1907 and lived in bohemian surroundings, growing up with writers, poets and philosophers as constant visitors. She was a young woman living in Paris in the 1920s when many women were breaking the expected female mould. Mary Talbot was born in the north of England in the 1950’s so grew up at a time when women were breaking the mould again. Their story shows that despite the times it was still difficult to break that mould.
The illustrations that accompany the story are drawn by Mary’s husband Bryan who has illustrated many comics and graphic novels over the years. The drawings bring his wife’s words alive, are fabulous to look at and full of animation. Mary’s story is in sepia and Lucia’s in grey and white. Mary’s story features splashes of colour at particularly emotional points which brings energy to the drawings and serves to highlight certain points.
I know graphic novels are not to everyone’s taste, but I love reading one every now and again, after all, pictures can tell a story equally well as words. Although the narrative is sparse in a graphic novel, the reader is left to imagine parts of the story based on the pictures and I think this is good exercise for the brain! It would be great if Dotter of her Father’s Eyes claimed the overall prize tonight at the Costa Awards but Ms Mantel is a force to be reckoned with, however you just never know with these things…
Images from Jonathan Cape and Mary & Bryan Talbot