Look at Me is a beautifully assured novel that crackles with the drama and complex dynamics of family life. So, make no mistake about it: Sarah Duguid has arrived with a debut that is going to whip up a storm this spring.
Our narrator Lizzy is an aspiring actress in her thirties, who lives with her brother and father in London—but also, seemingly, with the ghost of her mother Margaret: loving, caring, lively, fun, someone that held the family together, before she died two years ago. Theirs is a sprawling house which contains multitudes, but suffers from its absences.
Wasting no time in setting the scene, Duguid soon ratchets up the tension a couple of notches when Lizzy finds a letter in her father’s drawers. It soon transpires that Julian had an affair: out in the world is his other child, who, in a sudden burst of defiance and outrage, Lizzy invites into their still-grieving home.
It doesn’t take long before she realises her mistake. Eunice moves into their life in a flurry of pink, fluffy sweaters, ready with her kind words and over-bearing eagerness to be a part of the family. The problem is, Lizzy is far from ready to great her with open arms, struggling to come to grips with the idea of Eunice’s very existence: of a half-sister waltzing into her home and stealing the attentions of her father.
Lizzy’s life up until this point has been a closed book when it comes to outsiders: it’s just her, Ig – her bohemian brother – and her father Julian: a somewhat sheltered existence. That’s what makes this novel so effective: Duguid creates a brilliantly tense atmosphere by introducing Eunice and upsetting the status quo. She quickly makes the rest of the family re-evaluate everything they previously thought about love and loss.
Look at Me is a compelling psychological take on dysfunctional family life and what it means when circumstances beyond your control impact on an existence you have grown accustomed to. The novel is mysterious, intriguing, and probing—often all the same time—as we race to a breathless conclusion where the tension, that has been lurking just beneath the surface, finally boils over in an explosive fashion.
Duguid writes with an assured touch and has given us a debut that will have people wondering what might come from her pen next. I for one am excited to find out.