Jamaica Kincaid’s novella, Lucy, tells the story of Lucy Potter, a 19-year-old woman who moves from Antigua to the United States to be an au pair for a wealthy white family. The text tracks Lucy’s first year in America with flashbacks to her childhood in Antigua and her complex relationship with her mother. The story is about coming-of-age, family and the intricate bonds formed between women. Lucy is an act of protest, exploring a woman’s anger at being held to a patriarchal standard by her family, whilst simultaneously battling her resentment towards European colonisation.
I disliked the descendants of the Britons for being unbeautiful, for not cooking food well, for wearing ugly clothes, for not liking to really dance, and for not liking real music. If only we had been ruled by the French (...)
Lucy tries to balance the expectations of her mother against her new life in America, using every opportunity to experience rebellion and forge her own path so far removed from her upbringing. As a result, the narrative is framed by Lucy’s love-hate relationship with her mother. She notes how after her mother confesses that she named Lucy ‘after Satan himself’, she begins to understand her place in the world. At times Lucy may seem cruel, but she is aware that to become an individual, she must cut ties with her mother and make her own choices, separate to the values and desires of her family back home. While by the end of the book Lucy’s life situation has not changed much, she is content that she is now the master of her own destiny. Lucy is an incredibly funny character: her smart quips and inner thoughts are deeply satirical and I found myself laughing out loud at a lot of them. I also appreciated how Kincaid legitimises Lucy’s anger since this isn’t something you often see in literature. Lucy is a fully nuanced character with moments of joy and passion but also vulnerability and grief. This is a very impressive feat considering the book is less than 200 pages.
In some ways her complex relationship with her employer, Mariah, becomes a replacement for the missing maternal figure in Lucy’s life. Mariah is spoiled and ignorant but caring and well-meaning. While Lucy grows to love Mariah and the children, she is very aware of her heritage and of the privileges Mariah and her family have being middle-class and white and living in the West. Because of this, despite the novel being published 30 years ago, it still holds a poignancy with issues of today. One of my favourite moments in the book is when she expresses a deep hatred towards the daffodils in Mariah’s garden because they remind her of an English poem she had to recite during her school days. While Mariah can only see the pretty flowers, to Lucy they represent a marker of colonialism and how she was forced to learn about a plant which isn’t native to her island, Antigua.
I did not know what these flowers were, and so it was a mystery to me why I wanted to kill them. Just like that. I wanted to kill them. I wished that I had an enormous scythe; I would just walk down the path, dragging it alongside me, and I would cut these flowers down at the place where they emerged from the ground.
While a short book, Lucy is straight-forward and impactful. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone. Annie John is up next!