This novel was long listed for the Man Booker Prize last year and has received many other worthy accolades. Here in my humble opinion is why.
“Lucy is recovering from an operation in a New York hospital when she wakes to find her estranged mother sitting by her bed. They have not seen each other in years. As they talk, Lucy finds herself recalling her troubled rural childhood and how it was she eventually ended up in the big city, got married and had children. But this unexpected visit leaves her doubting the life she’s made: wondering what is lost and what has yet to be found.”
Lucy is confined to her bed with her mother being an ever present figure for a short — but intense — 5 days. As mother and daughter reach out to each other through talking about other people, shared memories, and shared events, we are privy to the difficult childhood that Lucy had. She was clearly brought up by parents who were troubled and who suffered poverty, deprivation, and sadness.
The mother-daughter relationship can be a complex one; I’m sure my own mother won’t mind me saying that! The tenderness of that relationship, mixed with frustration and deep love, is captured beautifully in this short but powerful novel.
Lucy uses this imposed time as a way of trying to make sense not just of her relationship with her mother but of her childhood too. What did she really experience as a child? What is the result of that? Why is she a writer? What has the real influence of her past had on her present? There are many poignant moments — some shocking but many heart wrenching and sad — as Lucy and her mother skirt around one another drawing close and then backing away.
“I told my mother I was worried about her not sleeping…And then once more there began that slight rush of words, the compression of feeling that seemed to push up through her as she started that morning to suddenly speak of her childhood, how she had taken catnaps throughout her childhood too. ‘You learn to, when you don’t fee share’, she said ‘you can always take a catnap sitting up’.”
I guess this is what would be termed a ‘quiet’ novel — the type of novel I enjoy. Strout captures the intimacies and nuances of relationships perfectly and in a way that Anne Tyler is constantly able to. As I was flicking back through the book to write this I realzsed that almost every page has something I would want to quote. (You’ll be relieved that I have restricted myself.)
“I have said it before: It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”
I think this is a perfect illustration of how much of great worth is said in this novel — in a succinct, but memorable, way.
This is the first of Elizabeth Strouts novels I have read — and it’s given me a taste for more of her writing. I plan to read Olive Kitteridge her novel which preceded My name is Lucy Barton.
About The AuthorElizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City. | Buy My name is Lucy Barton | More About The Author