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2016 Man Booker: My Name is Lucy Barton

My Name is Lucy Barton

First up on our list of longlist books is My Name is Lucy Barton By Elizabeth Strout. This was one of the books that both Kate and I (Jen) predicted correctly. Four of our judges read this book. We will be rating all the 2016 longlist books on the following criteria: 1) writing quality; 2) originality; 3) character development; 4) plot development; and 5) overall enjoyment. Each of the judges reading the book will provide their brief review to explain their ratings. Here are our reviews and ratings for My Name is Lucy Barton…

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Published in: January 2016
Our judges: Jen, Book Worm, Nicole, & Kate
Find/buy it here: My Name is Lucy Barton

Synopsis (from Amazon): 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.

Nicole’s Review: This is a short, lovely little book that somehow manages to pack a wallop. There was a point in this book where I just burst into tears, and I realized at that moment how deftly I was brought to that point.  You be you, Lucy B.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 17/20

Kate’s Review: This is a very intimate book. It has the punch of a tell all memoir but Strout is so skillful that she manages to paint a disturbing portrait of an impoverished dysfunctional family without actually revealing much in the way of detail.  There seems to be an awful lot of material between the lines for the reader to digest.  This will resonate with any daughter who has ever had a difficult relationship with her mother.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 17/20

Jen’s Review: I have to admit that I didn’t quite get the genius of the book until the very end. I found myself feeling quite bored for the first 1/2 of the book and frustrated in the lack of detail about why the relationship between mother and daughter was strained. Yet when I got to the end, I surprised myself by crying and feeling really connected to the protagonist. Thus while I felt initially underwhelmed with the writing, the true genius of it became clear when I felt emotionally impacted by what I had initially perceived to be a narrative devoid of much emotion. It takes a talented author to create such powerful emotion in a gradual and understated way. My ratings below don’t reflect how much I ultimately liked the book. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t find it to be a particularly original novel although the approach was perhaps original (but I gave that credit under my rating for writing quality) so I subtracted a few points for originality. I also felt like I only touched the surface when it came to understanding the majority of the characters. The main character was well developed but the others were snapshots rather than full detailed portraits – perhaps that was the point. Finally, while I ultimately enjoyed it, I can’t change the fact that I felt somewhat detached for the first half. I think the book belongs on the longlist but I’m not sure I’d pick it to move onto the shortlist (having also now read several other longlist books).

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1.5/2
Total 15.5/20

Book Worm’s Review: I read and reviewed this book for the blog a little while ago full review can be found here. In summary this is a great little book about family and what family means. While well executed, I don’t think the storyline is that original hence the 3/5 rating.
Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total 15/20

Average score across all panelists: 16.13/20

Ranking of Longlist books to date:
1. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Want to try it for yourself? You can buy your copy here: My Name is Lucy Barton

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? Does it deserve to be on the 2016 Man Booker longlist? Should it make it to the shortlist?

Next up? The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Coming later this week!

27 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anita Pomerantz #

    Loved reading all your reviews – – but I’m with Nicole and Kate. I especially agree with what Kate says “This will resonate with any daughter who has ever had a difficult relationship with her mother.”. Yes.

    **spoiler alert**

    One of the people in my book club speculated that the mother was not actually there in the hospital room with Lucy, but was rather Lucy’s thoughts or a feverish hallucination. The person made some very good observations about why she thought that might be the case . . .however, I would need to re-read the book to see if I thought that was plausible or not. I will say it made for a GREAT book group discussion. I’m wondering if that crossed anyone’s mind . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    August 9, 2016
    • That’s an interesting theory. I can see how that might be true since much of it felt very dream-like. I don’t think we’re very different in our reviews. We all liked it a lot. It was a 4-star book for me but I had to take off some points based on the rating system we are using here. I think it was brilliantly done and my ratings for this particular feature don’t necessarily match up with how much I actually liked the book.

      Like

      August 9, 2016
    • I’d like to add that while this was the first review we posted, it wasn’t the first book I read. Two of the other books were particularly original and creative. So while I might have liked this book more than earlier ones I had read, it wasn’t as strong in terms of originality (which is counted highly in our rating system). It’s been tough because I’ve read and really liked all 5 of my books to date–forcing me to be super picky in my ratings in order to be able to rank them. This was the most emotionally impactful book for me -so far.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 9, 2016
    • Re: Spoiler Alert – OOOH I had not thought of that. I love that idea. If I ever reread this I’m going to go in with that scenario in mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      August 9, 2016
  2. I did enjoy this one though I don’t see it making the short list for the reason Jen mentioned – that it didnt feel particularly original in its plotting. Also agree with Kate that there is a lot that is unsaid in this novel particularly about the woman’s relationship with her father. I kept wondering if sexual abuse was being hinted at?

    Liked by 1 person

    August 10, 2016
    • I wondered that too. There was a lot left unsaid about that relationship

      Liked by 1 person

      August 10, 2016
  3. Scott #

    Although this was a compelling work, I thought it was weak. It went in every direction possible (coming-of-age, mother-daughter, parent, marriage, AIDS, divorce) without being illuminating or insightful. I like Strout a great deal, but she’s resting on her laurels here.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 14, 2016
    • that’s interesting. She does go in many different directions but for me, at heart it was about a mother-daughter relationship and how that relationship and love impacted many other things. I have to give some thought about whether I found it particularly insightful or illuminating and if so what insights I drew from it. I think I agree with you but I have to reflect on it a little more. That said, it’s not one of the books that would have made my personal longlist and since I’ve now read most of the longlist, it most likely won’t make my shortlist.

      Like

      August 14, 2016
      • Scott #

        The relationship of Lucy with her mother was clearly the centerpiece. The arrival (at the request of Lucy’s husband), the gossip (insight into Lucy’s background and upbringing), her mother’s sudden departure (despite Lucy’s possible surgery), coupled with her mother’s deathbed request for Lucy to depart don’t add up to much.

        Liked by 1 person

        August 14, 2016
      • Did you see Anita’s comment earlier? It’s an interesting theory that would perhaps make all those departures make more sense.

        Like

        August 14, 2016
    • have you read Work Like Any Other? I’m really liked it but it also tried to tackle many different things. I’ll wait until we post that review before saying more about it but I suspect you might feel the same way about that one.

      Like

      August 14, 2016
      • Scott #

        Funny you should mention this book. It’s next on my list.

        Liked by 1 person

        August 14, 2016
      • I will be curious to see what you think of it. It was very different from this one and has been one of my favorites so far but the author also introduces a lot of elements that aren’t necessarily part of the main plot.

        Like

        August 14, 2016
  4. dew #

    i think it is more than mother- daughter relationship. Ii mainly deals with the depression and lonlines.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 22, 2016

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