Hellooo everybody! Before I start this review, I just wanted to apologise for the lack of posts recently; there’s been some major things going on in my life that I’m not quite ready to share, so it’s been a little harder to find the time to sit down and get typing. If I’m honest, this has made me feel rather down and flat, as writing is something I genuinely LOVE to do, but I’ve just had a few crazy weeks. Some of these things have been good crazy and others, not so much. But I don’t want this post to become a negative one, so we’ll leave that there for now! These particularly crazy weeks have also meant that it’s taken me far longer than usual to get through this lovely little book, and the focus of today’s post, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout.
There isn’t a massive plot to this small but beautiful novel and I don’t mean that as a criticism. At times, it is so honest and absorbing that it feels as though you’ve stumbled upon Lucy’s diary or have somehow gained access to her inner thoughts. Lucy Barton is a successful writer living in New York who is looking back at her life and how particular people and events have shaped who she is today. In particular, she remembers the time she was ill in hospital when her daughters were little, feeling lost and lonely, and her estranged mother came to sit at the foot of her bed to keep her company. Over the course of the visit, Lucy and her mother talk about people from their tiny rural hometown of Amgash, Illinois, and what has become of some of them. She also reflects on her troubled childhood, where she grew up isolated and poor and felt desperately compelled to escape her roots, only to never return. Her subsequent escape to the Big Apple, and the life she has made for herself, is scrutinised as Lucy reflects on the paths she’s taken and the people she’s met along the way, and whether her life is quite the way she wanted.
Some of the things that happened to Lucy and her siblings as children are fairly dark, but Strout writes with such gentle conviction that it brings a raw sincerity and sense of realism to events. Nothing is delved into too deeply, which is reminiscent of real human nature, as whenever we think about past events that are painful, we do so only for as long as we are able to. There are things each of us won’t want to talk about and Lucy is the same; as our narrator, she makes it clear there are situations and life experiences that she will not write about. There are a lot of silences between her and her mother and so much is said in the suppression of their words, it’s incredibly illuminating. There is a heavy weight hanging in the air between them as their interpretation of one another’s life choices prevents them from remaining connected on a consistent basis. Their relationship is delicate, strained and extremely complicated, but Strout perfectly captures this along with those intense feelings of wanting and needing to say something, but feeling obligated to keep quiet. It’s a moving, enchanting portrayal of the intricacies of a mother/daughter relationship and family ties.
The beauty of this book is its tenderness; Lucy often questions herself and what she’s trying to tell the reader, using phrases like, “what I mean to say is…” to further reiterate a point or examine its significance to her. She’s totally believable and familiar as a narrator, which makes the reader feel like they’re reconnecting with an old friend or distant relative. There’s also a subtle social commentary that is all the more effective because it is told through the eyes of a person who grew up completely unexposed to modern society and pop cultural norms, and she’s able to make startling psychological insights with no judgement.
This is a small and captivating novel that is definitely worth reading. It will make you reflect on your own life and relationships, and how much control we believe we have over the choices we seem to make. How much of our decisions are affected by the experiences and people of our past and present? Strout is a beautiful, clever and moving writer and I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
What are you currently reading? Thanks for reading this post, chums!