Look at Me – Sarah Duguid

Lizzy confronts her father, Julian, with a letter she found in his desk drawer. It’s from a woman, younger than Lizzy, claiming that Julian is also her father. Julian confesses that he’s met her twice and that Lizzy’s mother, dead two years, also knew about her. To the disapproval of both her father and brother, Ig, Lizzy decides to write to her.

From the doorway, my father watched. ‘Not on the Basildon Bond, Elizabeth,’ he said. ‘Your grandmother would be turning in her grave.’

‘What would Mum be doing in hers?’ I replied.

Elizabeth suggests to her half sister that they meet.

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The meeting follows swiftly where it soon becomes clear that Lizzy and Eunice belong to completely different worlds.

A girl who’d stepped from childhood to adulthood in one go. All the sensible choices. Job, flat, husband. No drama school for her. No imagining she was a carrot working its way through the digestive tract of an anxious rabbit. She’d never spent an hour and a half being a chair. Hadn’t pretended to give birth to triplets on a metal trolley borrowed from the catering department. She hadn’t spent days staring at the bottom of a wine glass trying to make an internal map of the feelings she could draw on for her work.

Eunice is twenty-three, a shop manager, married for six months and lives in a flat that her husband owned when they met. Lizzy is thirty, an actress without any work, still living at home in an annexe built for her by her father (Ig also has one).

Before long, Eunice has practically invited herself for the weekend, a weekend in which the tension between Julian and his wife’s best friend, Valerie, bubble over.

And then, a short time after that weekend, Eunice rings and tells Lizzy that Mike’s ended their marriage. She goes to Julian’s house for the afternoon and before they’ve realised it’s happened, she’s moved in.

‘I didn’t go to university,’ she said. ‘Not like Mike. I started work at sixteen.’ She yanked a box from underneath the bed. ‘It’s all right for the privileged. They can throw people away like they don’t matter.’

As Eunice tries to find her mother, she decides it’s time for Lizzy to get over the death of hers and attempts a risky manoeuvre to become part of the family for good.

I’ll be honest, there was a point at which I almost gave up on this book in a rage. The problem I had was to do with Lizzy and her family. Her father, Julian, is a wine merchant. He spent his younger years living a hippy, happy, promiscuous life. Lizzy, 30, still lives at home and is an aspiring actress. The subplot of the novel involves her getting a part in a play. The director patronises her, hits on her, terrifies her and she begins dating him. The younger brother, Ig, is a Reiki master. Older women clients hit on him. He also still lives at home. Is it me or is this just a little too stereotypical an established middle class family? I’ll admit, it’s not a circle I move in so I may be wrong.

Anyway, I didn’t abandon it in a rage for two reasons: one, the writing is very good indeed. Dugid has an ear for the rhythm of a sentence and the overall balance of a paragraph and she exploits it to good effect. Her vocabulary’s well chosen, drawing characters, scenes and opinions in a few words.

Two, Eunice is a brilliant character. She’s an absolute time bomb to this family and I relished watching her worm her way in – did Mike actually ditch her? – and ensure her position in a family with a level of privilege she could only dream of prior to discovering that Julian was her father.

Look At Me is for readers who prefer their psychological thrillers to be language driven and, dare I say it, plausible, rather than powered by a twisty, anything could happen, plot. Although I have my reservations about the family at the centre of the story, Dugid’s language and plotting has me looking forward to whatever she does next.

 

Thanks to Tinder Press for the review copy.