My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Last year, I read Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, and I was blown away. It was one of the best books I read in 2015. Now I’ve read Strout’s new novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, and I can confidently say I think it will be one of the best books I read this year.
My Name is Lucy Barton is a short gut-punch of a novel. It’s also deceiving; on the surface, it’s a very quiet book, a character study without a clear plot. Protagonist Lucy Barton is reflecting on her life; specifically, on a period in the 1980s when she was in hospital for nine weeks and her mother came to visit, bringing with her stories and memories from Lucy’s troubled childhood: ‘We were oddities, our family, even in that tiny rural town of Amgash, Illinois … we did not have any neighbors nearby. And we did not have a television and we did not have newspapers or magazines or books in the house.’ This description of the plot might sound to some readers terribly dull or slow-moving, but the novel is neither. Instead, it captures the essence of a character, and the story of her life is laid out within the book’s pages.
Strout’s writing sneaks up on you. She weaves bleakness into the novel carefully, steering you gently into the saddest of places. She also knows how to build tension. There are several moments in My Name is Lucy Barton where something is mentioned early on, left to hover in your mind, and then circled back to later in a devastating way.
This is not a book for everyone, but I loved it, a lot, and have picked it up several times since finishing it to reread certain passages. I highly recommend it for fans of Alice Munro or Marilynne Robinson.
Nina Kenwood is the marketing manager for Readings.