Book review: The Lucy Family Alphabet

The Lucy Family Alphabet.The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book describes Australian comedian Judith Lucy’s family.

It’s important to state at the outset for those unaware of Lucy’s act – though I’m uncertain who would read this book without knowing at least a little of the comedian’s work – that her caustic style makes much of the role of her family in her upbringing. The loony parents who won’t let their kids take showers (despite having a functional appliance) and who exist on disdain and laxatives are the cornerstone of her pieces.

(In fact, here’s a clip of her talking about her family. This will give you an idea if you’ve none. For a more conversational approach, you can check the Enough Rope interview with Lucy from a couple of years ago, available in three parts.)

The kicker is that Lucy has two families: the family she draws her stage banter from, and her birth mother – about whom she was told by accident at age 25. The Lucy Family Alphabet, then, is an examination of identity and discovery prompted by someone telling Lucy that she must be glad to be adopted as it seemed she must hate her parents – something manifestly not the case.

It’s apparently Lucy loves her parents. It’s entirely possible to love someone and not be able to stand them, or to acknowledge that they’re “a bit of a cunt”, as her father is once described. The terrible, misguided things that occur over the course of Lucy’s childhood are described in hindsight with a recognition of the sadness that permeated her parents’ lives.

It’s a story of migration, of empty days and disengagement, and for all the humour (the book is indeed LOL-inducing if you’re on public transport, as it’s larded with signature Lucy self-critique) it’s a moving, sad work. Obviously, attempting to reconcile adoption with love isn’t necessarily fertile ground for big yuks, but the writing here is an exceptional display of tragicomedy.

When I was younger – though there’s not a lot of difference between our ages – I never really got Judith Lucy’s comedy. It was spiky and very self-deprecating in nature, and I realise now that it partially rubbed me the wrong way as it was a reflection of the way I behaved, in the belief that fatalism and grim self-excoriation was an excellent protective shield against the Shit of the World.

It wasn’t, and I’m better now (thanks for asking) but I do very much enjoy Lucy’s comedy these days. It has changed in the intervening years (as you’d expect) and the contemplation that sits alongside bitching about relationships is welcome and far more human. This book – a couple of years old now – is a brilliant example of the human Judith Lucy, as opposed to the suit-of-armour, please-give-me-attention role which she (and many of us, though less successfully) played in youth. It’s really worth your time.

By way of sad postcript, Lucy’s excellent-sounding brother Niall (a noted philosopher) died last year. Judith’s most recent TV series, Judith Lucy Is All Woman (which is really worth a look if you come across it) was dedicated to his memory. A reminder that the family story continues beyond the book’s conclusion.

My Goodreads profile is here.

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