My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

If you’ve read Olive Kitteridge, or any of Strout’s other books, you’ll know her writing to be sharply observed and intricately detailed. The clarity of this writing was enough to constantly make me put this book down and ponder the last sentence. She has a way of creating a sentence out of not very many words but making them strong and meaningful and so very personal.

Throughout this book, the narrator, Lucy Barton, claims this is not a book about her marriage. But it is a book about relationships, especially the one she has and had with her mother and the one she has and had with her husband. I am slightly wary of books about relationships with mothers because (a) I have one and (b) I am one, and I hate comparing my relationships with anyone else’s in any way because there will always be weak points and I will always come up wanting. But not with this book because Lucy’s relationship with her mother is practically non existent and I can at least do better than that.

This story is mainly set from a hospital bed, where Lucy is languishing after being struck down with a mysterious illness. She has a husband and two young children, who she loves very much and yet her husband is too busy to visit her in this hospital and so calls her estranged mother to come and be with her. This in itself is unusual because Lucy’s parents have practically disowned her and they certainly don’t like talking to Lucy’s husband.

Throughout her mother’s visit Lucy is given little chunks of insight into her life, which affords her a view on her own childhood, which we come to understand was fairly challenging. Her mother sits by her bed side, dropping little nuggets of insight in to Lucy’s lap, in some ways enabling Lucy to love her but as soon as she shows this, her mother bats her away, like she’s been doing all her life. Lucy’s able to see how the way she was treated by her parents is a product of a way they were treated by theirs and to me it felt like she began to understand herself a little better throughout the five days her mother stays by her bedside.

The vivacity that Strout writes with is staggering and even though this is a fairly short book, I know it will stay with me. There’s something so precise about every word, each sentence fitting together with the next like an excellent jigsaw. It’s intelligent and sharp and it’s entirely the sort of writing that I enjoy reading. A masterclass of modern fiction.

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