My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

Almost exactly two years ago I read Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories and I liked it a lot. Then I saw a lot of positive reviews of My Name Is Lucy Barton and finally I bought it while in Cambridge few weeks ago.

I really like the Penguin edition, the window in the cover is a nice touch and finally the print was big enough for my poor eyes. I was drawn to this book, so it was the first one from my Cambridge haul I read. As expected Lucy is our narrator, she is older now, but she tells us a story of her hospital stay many years ago. She had to stay in the hospital for several weeks and towards the end of her stay her mother visited her. There would be nothing special about it if not for the fact that Lucy and her mother have barely been in touch since Lucy left home to go to college.

Lucy remembers her mother’s visit, but also reminisces about her childhood, trying to understand their relationship. She longs to be with her mother, something that I think most of us feel especially when we’re vulnerable and ill. Their conversation is slow and focuses mostly on things that do not seem to be significant, but it is the only way they can connect, they don’t seem to be ready to face the difficult past head-on. Their conversation and Lucy’s memories flow slowly through the book, there is no plot per se, it is a portrait of a relationship woven from many strands. On one hand they should be equal, they are both grown up women, but on the other there is this feeling of dependency or need on Lucy’s part, she wants to be close to her mother and yet they are not capable of it. Lucy’s mother on the other hand seems to also be looking for something, maybe for forgiveness, or maybe understanding how Lucy managed to turn her life around when she herself got so stuck.

It is an interesting book, if a little slow. It has this slow pace of recovering patient, someone who has been out of touch with the speed of reality for a while and was able to reset to a rhythm of the body, rather than the outside world. I pin point if there was anything wrong with this book, but it didn’t engage me the way Olive Kitteridge did, maybe because Lucy’s voice seems to be a little bit detached, because she is telling us story from a long time back.

Did you read it? What did you think about it?

To finish off a few quotes:

So I was like my mother, we did not want to be judged by what we read, and while she wouldn’t even read such a thing, I only didn’t want to be seen with it.

There is that constant judgement in this world: How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another?

It was the sound of my mother’s voice I most wanted; what she said didn’t matter.

I have said 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.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska 

6 thoughts on “My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

  1. I just finished this last week! I devoured it – I found Lucy’s story to be so sad but also compelling. It also made me intensely nostalgic for my own childhood, even thought Lucy’s is so sad. I’ve not read Olive Kitteridge yet, though, so I don’t have that to compare it to.


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