January 9th, 2016


My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

I wasn’t that keen on Olive Kitteridge but liked The Burgess Boys, so I was glad to be given the opportunity of reading the author’s new novel. Don’t look here for thrills and excitement; this is a quiet book and a short one.

The story is told mostly in flashbacks to several weeks Lucy spent in hospital, during which, for a few days, her mother sat in a chair at the foot of the bed and talked Or sometimes didn’t. A whole life from a hospital bed. Lucy and her mother haven’t met for several years. There are two narratives here: what Lucy remembers and what Mother says happened. We learn of the dirt poor childhood when the family was shunned and dismissed as ‘trash’. How the clever girl who loved reading got to college and was the only member of her family to leave rural Illinois for the city. She lives in New York, has two daughters she adores, becomes a writer. Yet she can never be completely at ease because her strange childhood deprived her of any knowledge of popular culture. Are her memories unreliable? There are hints of some dark secret but to her mother the family past is perfectly normal.

It’s the writing style which makes this book so different and special. It reminded me of Stevie Smith or Barbara Comyns in that the voice of the book imprints itself on the brain for a while so that you start thinking and writing in the same way.

I read this courtesy of Random House via NetGalley. It’s published this month in the US and in February in the UK.