My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Published: January 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: 4 Stars
Find it here: My Name Is Lucy Barton
This ARC was provided by Penguin Books UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Goodreads; A new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is cause for celebration. Her bestselling novels, including Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, have illuminated our most tender relationships. Now, in My Name Is Lucy Barton, this extraordinary writer shows how a simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all—the one between mother and daughter.
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.
Book Worm’s Review: This is a book about family relationships and how even when estranged for many years, family will be there when needed.
While in the hospital, Lucy is visited by her estranged mother, while Lucy wants definitive answers about her childhood, her mother is only prepared to reveal details about their life through stories about other people.
Lucy is a complicated character. She is trying to get her head around the idea that despite her childhood poverty she is lovable. While she questions if she can be loved, she has no problem with loving others. In fact, she loves most people she meets, including her doctor. She loves in all the different ways that love can be shown, and yes sometimes her declarations of “I love him” can get annoying.
Although Lucy is only in hospital for 9 weeks, those weeks have a profound impact on how she sees her past and ultimately how her future turns out. While these weeks bring her closer to her mother, her own relationship with her children suffers through her absence.
This is a first person narrative so its really important that you like the narrator and I had no problem liking Lucy. She is human. She bettered herself at the cost of her family relationships, but she still did it and succeeded. She is self-conscious. She has questions about her life, about what she thinks she remembers, and about her present and why things turn out the way they do.
Lucy is the reason I enjoyed this book. In some ways she reminded me of a Steinbeck character. Even when describing her impoverished childhood, Lucy doesn’t ask the reader to sympathize. She just tells you how it was.
I would recommend this to those who enjoy slow moving, subtle, character driven books.
Some of my favourite quotes;
“She was as beautiful as her face, I thought, and I loved New York for this gift of endless encounters.”
“But once in a while I see a child crying with the deepest of desperation, and I think it is one of the truest sounds a child can make. I feel almost, then, that I can hear within me the sound of my own heart breaking, the way you could hear outside in the open air- when the conditions were exactly right- the corn growing in the fields of my youth”
“I fell silently, absolutely, immediately in love with this man. I have no idea where he is, if he is still alive, but I still love this man”
“I stopped listening. It was the sound of my mother’s voice I most wanted; what she said didn’t matter”
“Both my parents loathed the act of crying, and it’s difficult for a child who is crying to stop, knowing if she doesn’t stop everything will be made worse. This is not an easy position for any child. And my mother-that night in the hospital room-was the mother I had all my life, no matter how different she seemed with her urgent quiet voice, her softer face. What I mean is I tried not to cry. In the dark I felt she was awake”
“Sarah Payne, the day she told us to go to the page without judgement, reminded us that we never knew, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully”
“This is not the story of my marriage. I cannot tell that story: I cannot take hold of, or lay out for anyone, the many swamps and grasses and pockets of fresh air and dank air that have gone over us”
“But this is my story. This one. And my name is Lucy Barton”
As an added bonus this counts towards my scavenger hunt. It fits clue #31: read a book published during our challenge months.
Want to try it for yourself? You can purchase your copy here: My Name Is Lucy Barton
We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? Do you plan on reading it? What do you think of Elizabeth Strout’s books?