My Name is Lucy Barton: Elizabeth Strout’s life-affirming novel


I recently lost several hours because I opened up Elizabeth Strout’s latest book My Name is Lucy Barton, and could not put it down. It is the fifth novel by Strout, a 2008 Pulitzer prize-winning author, and has a story at its heart, which is immediate, raw and captivating.

What is it all about?

The scene is set with our main protagonist, Lucy Barton, reminiscing about a nine-week period in her life when she found herself bed bound in hospital with a mystery illness, after having her appendix out. Isolated from her family and with only a view of the Chrysler Building “with its geometric brilliance of lights” for company, her estranged mother suddenly appears for a five-day visit.

Is it worth the read?

From the moment Lucy Barton’s mother arrives unexpectedly at the foot of her hospital bed with a casual “Hi, Wizzle,” Strout immerses you in the complexities of family life and the unwavering bond of the mother/daughter relationship: “Her being there, using my pet name, which I had not heard in ages, made me feel warm and liquid-filled, as though all my tension had been a solid thing and now was not.”

Strout’s writing is concise, it doesn’t waver, it is fearlessly bold and to the point. It is so lacking in filler it transports you to the immediate reality of her protagonists. As a result the book is full of raw emotion and the unsaid becomes just as important as that which is said; the clear love Lucy and her mother have for each other is never directly expressed, but you can sense the impact of it in the way Lucy responds to her own children.

It also captures the invisible yet influential strings of the family bond, and whilst Lucy has distanced herself physically, intellectually and socially from them, it remains ever-present: “I could not stop feeling panic, as if the Barton family, the five of us – off-kilter as we had been- was a structure over me I had not even known about until it ended.”

It is a book which, for such direct language, handles human relationships with great sensitivity and understanding. There are many question marks from comments made that never find a resolution, but for me this made the scope of the book much wider, as it moves from acts of kindness, to abuse, the AIDS epidemic, to love, loss and life.

It is a little book but it has a big voice.

(Publisher: Penguin  ISBN: 9780241248775)

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Caroline Woodward-Court

Caroline is Khoollect's resident book reviewer. This lady has had her noses in books since she can r...

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