My Name is Lucy Barton
By: Elizabeth Strout
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.
I can’t remember, was this longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize or the Man Booker or both? Anyway, it was through one of those book awards that I first encountered this novel and it had been on my wishlist since. Also, while I’ve long heard of Elizabeth Strout and her works, this is the first book of hers that I actually read.
My Name is Lucy Barton is an interesting and curious novel about a woman named Lucy Barton. You immediately have a sense of who she is and her character as she narrates her story, of her recovery from a medical procedure, the sudden appearance of her mother, and reflections of her life and her childhood. Poverty, class, aspirations, family relations…All these themes are reflected in the vignettes of her memories and her experiences. I can see how this novel can be a bit of a turn-off for some people in that it may seem fragmented at times, but there was the running thread of how she came to be where she was, living in New York and exploring her own story through her reflections.
Having said that, I wished the narrative did flesh out a bit more on her family’s dysfunction; took a heck of a long time to get to the bottom of some of the deeply-rooted issues of why her family was as distant as they were, and when they were revealed, some aspects still seemed glossed over, not explored as much as I thought it would. Even in approaching the expression of the memory–for example her brother–from Lucy’s perspective, Lucy’s reaction, it still seems wanting. And where the book lost stars for me was the last quarter of the novel with the fast-forward to her later years. I had no doubt Lucy loved her daughters, of course, but the sudden narrative on them seemed disjointed somehow, along with the rest of the final quarter. Thus that last page lost the impact that it could’ve had on me because it felt so sudden.
Overall My Name is Lucy Barton was an interesting read with quite a narrative voice, but the story as a whole left me wanting. I found myself unsatisfied by the reveal and explanation of some of the complexities of her family’s dynamic; her parents and why they were the way they were—especially her mother, which the book blurb hinted to be at the core of this story–remained such a mystery to me at the end. Nonetheless I am glad to have finally read the book.