Lucy by the Sea

Elizabeth Strout

Lucy by the Sea
Penguin Books Ltd
United Kingdom
12 September 2023

Lucy by the Sea

Elizabeth Strout

From the Pulitzer prize-winning author of My Name is Lucy Barton.

In March 2020 Lucy's ex-husband William pleads with her to leave New York and escape to a coastal house he has rented in Maine. Lucy reluctantly agrees, leaving the washing-up in the sink, expecting to be back in a week or two. Weeks turn into months, and it's just Lucy, William, and their complex past together in a little house nestled against the sea.

Rich with empathy and a searing clarity, Lucy by the Sea evokes the fragility and uncertainty of the recent past, as well as the possibilities that those long, quiet days can inspire. At the heart of this miraculous novel are the deep human connections that sustain us, even as the world seems to be falling apart.


I don’t know about you, but Elizabeth Strout’s character Lucy Barton speaks to me and for me. And by that, I mean, her inner dialogue matches my own thought processes so often that reading about her is like sitting down to dinner with a dear friend. Her observations allow me to qualify my own.

If you have not met Lucy Barton in one of Strout’s earlier novels, that’s fine. You can start here, if you like, with Lucy by the Sea. The novel neatly sits by itself. However, if, like me, you have read all of Strout’s novels before, then reading this will feel like being welcomed home. Everyone is here, including Olive Kitteridge, William (of course), Bob Burgess and Lucy’s family. This novel begins in 2020 and follows the tumultuous coupleof years that followed. It’s about feeling shipwrecked because of the pandemic, because of the politics in America and because life can sometimes be precious and also painful. You could say that this novel is about dealing with many layers of grief; but you could also say that this novel is filled with hope and eventual acceptance.

Lucy by the Sea tackles all the terrible things that have happened in America recently and how people’s lives have become defined by those events. Reading this novel was painful at times. By that, I mean it reminded me how horrible and frightening these last few years have been. It reminded me that everything changed in 2020. Strout also examines relationships – between parents and their grown children and between friends of the past – as well as the concept of legacies.

This is Strout’s most contemporary novel. It is beautifully written, filled with sharp and simple descriptions. I believe it is Strout’s reminder to us all: we were there together and we survived. Not everyone did. But Lucy Barton did. And for that we can – and should – be grateful.

Chris Gordon is the community engagement and programming manager at Readings.

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