‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout


2016, 208p.

Lucy Barton lies in a New York hospital bed, seriously ill,  watching the lights in the Chrysler Building. Complications have set in after an appendectomy and she is frightened and desperately missing her two young daughters. Her husband has called her mother to come, and she has. She is sitting beside the bed, not sleeping.

The two women have been estranged for years and the mother keeps the conversation light, circling between anecdotes about shared acquaintances from the past. This is a conversation where the important things are left unsaid, as they always have been. It’s not a conversation between two adult women at all. Instead, Lucy is still the child, desperately wanting her mother to tell her that she loves her.  She cannot even frame the question about the poverty, physical, social and emotional, in which the family lived. Her mind shies away from the questions that she really needs to ask about her father’s post-war trauma, the punishment of being left in a truck, and even worse.

The narrative is simply told in retrospect, after Lucy – a published and accomplished writer- has recovered from her illness and moved on to another phase of her life.  Despite its 200 plus pages, the layout of the text provides a much shorter text,  in brief chapters and surrounded by much blank paper.  It is more novella than novel and it evokes the author’s earlier  Olive Kitteridge in its knife-sharp approach to relationships. I’m bemused by reviews that focus on the love between mother and daughter. I find it far more unsettling and much darker than that.

Source: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating:  8/10

3 responses to “‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ by Elizabeth Strout

  1. I have only recently read (listened to) Olive Kitteridge, and I think I might look out for this one too. Hope you are right about ‘darker’.

  2. Having adored Olive Kitteridge, you’ve inspired me to read this one next ( when I finish my reread of The Hobbit). The darker edges are what made it so unforgettable.

  3. Pingback: ‘Olive, again’ by Elizabeth Strout | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

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