My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is a Pulitzer prize-winning author (Olive Kitteridge) and in My Name is Lucy Barton she has written a skilful novel which goes to the heart of family relationships, particularly those between mother and daughter. Told through the eyes and memory of Lucy in the first person, it weaves a picture of Lucy's life , often through what is not spoken but implicit. 

Most of the novel concerns a period of five days which Lucy spent in hospital, slowly recovering from what should have been a fairly routine procedure. Her rather detached mother visits unexpectedly and through their conversation and silences between, we glean so much about the dynamics within Lucy's family. Much of their conversations are on small town gossip about people from Lucy's childhood. Lucy has escaped from the poverty and abuse of her early years to New York where she has learnt to find her voice and to write. 

This is a book which appears on the surface to be deceptively simple. It is fairly short but as you read it, you realise that it is in fact a multi layered and subtle piece. You feel the loneliness in the spaces between Lucy and her mother who at times appears unfathomable. At one point, I wondered if Lucy's mother was actually present or was just part of Lucy's imaginings when she was in hospital alone. Through their memories you come to realise that Lucy is a product of her past and cannot escape it. She is fearlessly honest and unsentimental. Of her brothers and sisters she says:

"I kept thinking how the five of us had had a really unhealthy family, but I saw then too, how our roots were twisted so tenaciously around one another's hearts." 

There are many quotes I could have picked out but I think that this captures the disconnect between the two women and Lucy's regret over this and desire to be closer:

"I dozed on and off listening to my mother's voice. I thought: All I want is this.

But it turned out I wanted something else. I wanted my mother to ask about my life. I wanted to tell her about the life I was living now. Stupidly - it was just stupidity- I blurted out- 'Mom, I got two stories published'. She looked at me quizzically, as if I had said I had grown extra toes, then she looked out the window and said nothing."

We also learn about Lucy's marriage and how she feels to be a mother herself. We follow her growth towards becoming a writer through her conversations with Sarah Payne, an author who tells her:

 “You will have only one story… You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You will have only one.”

In short: A powerful examination of what it is to be human.

I received an e-copy of this book from the publishers, Penguin,via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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