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.
I loved this book and once I started reading it I honestly couldn’t put it down. I’ve been in a major reading slump for weeks but this book just caught my imagination and I devoured it. I’ve stuck sticky notes all over the book, not just to remind me of things I wanted to make sure I referred to in this review but also for me to look back on myself. The passages about grief in this book were so poignant and really captured what grieving for a parent is like.
Lizzy and Ig are both adults but still live within the family home they grew up in, and in many respects they have remained child-like. The day Lizzy finds out she has a sister that she’d known nothing of she immediately reacts and sends a letter off to the mystery woman without ever stopping for a moment to consider the possible consequences; it’s an immature reaction but an understandable one.
Eunice then arrives in their lives; she is very girly and inquisitive, immediately wanting to see all of the family home and speculating about where she would have fit in if things were different. She is very perceptive and this isn’t particularly noticed by Julian, Lizzy or Ig and it allows Eunice to get under their skin and to find a way to really insert herself into their lives. Lizzy becomes increasingly discomfited by Eunice’s presence and often wonders how she can be rid of her yet, even though they are all adults, she never actually just has the conversation with Eunice about when she is likely to leave; ultimately she’s partly intimidated by her and partly still so mired in grief that it all takes too much energy and thought to deal with.
I couldn’t help but empathise with Lizzy over the pain she felt at the loss of her mother, at times it was visceral and it brought back the pain, and the strange sense of bewilderment – those moments of being somewhere but not really being fully present – that I felt at losing my own mum. Duguid demonstrates Lizzy’s grief so poignantly and I felt so sad for her, yet at the same time I was never sure how much I could trust Lizzy, she seemed to be telling the truth and yet she felt like an unreliable narrator. We mainly see Eunice through Lizzy’s eyes, which meant the reader’s view is tainted by what Lizzy sees, or wants to see, in her. It makes for a brilliant dynamic in the novel and although I knew from the prologue that something terrible was going to happen, I never predicted exactly what, or who, that incident would involve.
I found Eunice exhausting to read about, she is ever present and always trying to be right in the centre of everything that happens. She wants to make her newly discovered family revolve around her. I could feel the increasingly stifling atmosphere closing in around the three original members of the family; it made me feel quite claustrophobic at times. I did ponder over the way that it felt like Eunice as a character was a metaphor for the way grief enters your life so suddenly and with no guidebook, it turns everything on its head, it makes you view your whole life in a different way and from a completely different angle. And eventually the raw, disturbing nature of it goes away and what is left is a sense of peace but everything is still forever changed.
This is a short novel but it packs one hell of a punch. I actually finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it now. I was very lucky to receive an advanced reading copy of this novel but I loved it so much that I treated myself to a finished copy to put on my favourites bookcase. Not many books make it onto there but this one absolutely deserves its place, I know it will be one that I read again and again over the years.
Look At Me is disturbing and beautiful, and is so honest and raw; a stunning debut that you absolutely won’t want to miss!
I rated this novel 5 out of 5 and can’t recommend it highly enough!
Look At Me is out now and available from all good bookshops.
I received a review copy from Tinder Press in return for an honest review.