“Perhaps it required the guts of a female philosopher…”

Lucy, go see. is a courageous bildungsroman and a quest. Lucy Pilgrim, the novel’s protagonist, is a global citizen and a traveler through time who tries to find herself at home not only in various cultures and places, but also in her own body (the most uncanny of all places to occupy).

The novel celebrates her jouissance of life with an insight and unreserved sexual frankness matching the genius of Philip Roth, demonstrating how fluid human–and especially female–sexuality can be. Maili celebrates female erotic agency without apology–bringing new perspectives to the provocative debates surrounding “the powerful autonomy of [female] sexual desire” and the trauma of childhood abuse. Lucy’s dilemma is that flouting the traditional rules of sexual decorum can distract her from achieving agency, because she poses a threat to the sexist world of “unrepentant male privilege”.

Like socially oppressed women all over the world who want to be mobile and self-reliant, Lucy defies convention, and in so doing confronts familial resistance along with broader resistance from the symbolic order represented by the patriarchal forces and sexist structures of society, including the modelling industry in which she wants to leave her mark. She struggles to maintain her subject position while constantly being treated like an object of commodification. As Lucy “look(s)for some kind of recognition of her beauty”, she questions, like Toni Morrison, the cult of physical beauty, exposing how the (romantic) concept of (physical) beauty is one of the most destructive concepts as “[she worries] the focus on the exterior could pollute the interior”.

What is remarkably fascinating about this seemingly (auto)biographical narratorial voice of Lucy, go see. is the way the narration confronts the horror of child abuse. The reader is witness to how it gradually infiltrates Lucy’s consciousness, disrupting her relations, illustrating its dire consequences. This makes Lucy’s story an exceptional one of Everywoman who repairs herself, by admitting to the moments of her own suffering and truth, without losing her integrity.

In this powerful rendition of Lucy, we have a simple yet rich voice at times evocative of Fitzgerald’s aphoristic style of narration: “… one just had to become someone else’s vision of themselves to succeed”.

In Lucy’s persona, the reader encounters a bold female philosopher answering a question similar to the one addressed to Jacques Derrida by the director Amy Ziering. She asks him what he would like most to see in a story about the lives of famous philosophers like Hegel or Heidegger. Derrida replies that he would like to hear these philosophers speak about their own sex lives. Asked why, Derrida explains it is because these philosophers remain reticent about their sexual lives, presenting themselves asexually in their work. Perhaps it required the guts of a female philosopher to address the call of a philosopher like Derrida (and a psychoanalyst like Jacques Lacan (famous for his “Mirror Stage” theory and concepts like jouissance), who admittedly begged women psychoanalysts to talk about their sex lives, especially that part which had nothing to do with men). Lucy answers these and similar calls with all her eloquence, without erasing that intimate aspect of her life, which poses a certain menace to the misogynistic interlocutors in her life.

Lucy’s inner life, most pointedly her sexual agency as a hidden source of power/pleasure, is important to her because it embodies a more expansive/fluid concept of (human) love and celebration of the body, not limited to the confines of private life. This is one of the most profound, humanistic and universal lessons Lucy has learnt and Maili shares with her readers. Lucy is fully capable of celebrating a life of desire and its consummation beyond the myopic vision of what most people can imagine.

Like all the great works of literature in which the writers bring their characters to the crossroads of their choices, and paths for taking, Lucy, go see. confronts readers with aporias of human desire, perhaps not meant for the uninitiated. I compliment the author and strongly recommend the novel to general readers and students of literature alike (as I eagerly anticipate Maili’s next work, I am home.).

Dr. Jaleel Akhtar

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