Elizabeth Strout – My Name is Lucy Barton

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My Name is Lucy Barton is set in a hospital where Lucy is recovering from an operation. This is a short book, but one in which we learn so much about all the characters involved and their relationship to one another.

Lucy is feeling lonely in the hospital when her mother arrives. They haven’t seen each other in a very long time and Strout really delves into the background of this to show the trials of family life. She stays for five nights in a chair and the conversation flows more freely between them than Lucy would’ve expected from previous experience.

She goes to sleep at night thinking that this is all she wants, her mother telling her stories from home. She loves the sound of her mother’s voice and what is actually being said isn’t really that important. She later wishes that her mother will ask her about her own life but this is just not forthcoming. When Lucy tries to fill her in on the details of her life her mother just stares out the window.

Lucy reminisces about her family, how they were put down by people and seen as smelly. Strout really shows the loneliness that was felt and Lucy wonders what it is in us that makes us look for others to put down in life. The poverty and upbringing has clearly taken a toll on Lucy and brother and we get an insight into this with the stories of them living in a garage, being kept in a truck and her brother sleeping with pigs. There’s a distressing description of the public shaming of her brother by her father but also a reflection on the blurring of memories, the notion of whether things actually really did happen in the way we remember them.

There’s a real sense of wonder in the book too. Lucy is in awe of the city and the way people behave. There’s thanks for the kindness of strangers as Lucy will never forget the way a doctor behaved towards her and the help he gave. Lucy goes to a writing class and the book is very big on the nature of writing.

The book is brilliant on the things that go unsaid in a family relationship and the desire to establish connections that may have been lost. The writing is sparse and perfectly formed, with very short sentences and My Name is Lucy Barton is very easy to read in one sitting but it has a warmth and depth that will certainly resonate with the reader for a very long time.

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