Book Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton

This novel was long listed for the Man Booker Prize last year and has received many other worthy accolades.  Here in my humble opinion is why.

“Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed.  They have not seen each other in years.  As they talk, Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually ended up in the big city, got married and had children.  But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she’s made: wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.”

Lucy is confined to her bed with her mother an ever present figure for as short but intense 5 days.  As mother and daughter reach out to each other through talking about other people, shared memories and events, we are privy to the difficult childhood that Lucy had.  She was clearly brought up by parents who were troubled, suffered poverty, deprivation and sadness.

The mother-daughter relationship can be a complex one, I’m sure my own mother won’t mind me saying that!  The tenderness of that relationship, mixed with frustration and deep love is captured beautifully in this short but powerful novel.

Lucy uses this imposed time, as a way of trying to make sense not just of her relationship with her mother, but of her childhood too.  What did she really experience as a child?  What is the result of that?  Why is she a writer,  and  what is the real influence of her past has  on her present.  There are many poignant moments, some shocking but many heart wrenching and sad, as Lucy and her mother skirt around one another, drawing close and then backing away.

“I told my mother I was worried about her not sleeping…And then once more there began that slight rush of words, the compression of feeling that seemed to push up through her as she started that morning to suddenly speak of her childhood, how she had taken catnaps throughout her childhood too.  ‘You learn to, when you don’t fee share’, she said ‘you can always take a catnap sitting up’. “

I guess this is what would be termed a ‘quiet’ novel, the type of novel I enjoy.  Strout captures the intimacies and nuances of relationships perfectly, and in a way Anne Tyler is constantly able to.  As I was flicking back through the book to write this I realised that almost every page has something I would want to quote.  You will be relieved that I have restricted myself.

“I have said it before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people.  It happens everywhere, and all the time.  Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”

I think this is a perfect illustration of how much of great worth is said in this novel in a succinct but memorable way.

This is the first of Elizabeth Strouts novels I have read.  It has given me a taste for  more of her writing. Next I plan to read ‘Olive Kitteridge’ her novel which preceded My name is Lucy Barton.

2 Comments

  1. July 2, 2017 / 8:17 am

    I read this as a book group book a couple of months ago. Interesting to read another review – the book was very well written and we all enjoyed it but not all were happy that so much was left unsaid or unfinished (like the relationship with the dad).

    • angiev@blueyonder.co.uk
      July 6, 2017 / 7:43 pm

      This would be a great book group book, there is much to discuss. I hadn’t thought too much about the relationship with the dad, I think I was so focused on the mother but its a very good point. We are told very little.

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