My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Opening sentence: “There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in hospital for almost nine weeks.”
Don’t you love it when your expectations for a book are not particularly high, but then you end up being totally in awe of it? That is exactly what happened when I picked up My Name is Lucy Barton. I actually read this in one day, as I just couldn’t put it down.
Written as New York based writer Lucy Barton’s memoir, the story seamlessly moves between Lucy recounting a 1980s hospital stay, her childhood (growing up with a brother and sister and parents she didn’t always get along with, in a financially poor situation), her damaged relationship with her mother, her college years, subsequent married life to a fellow student, William, and her love for her two daughters. There is a scattering of quirky anecdotes and interesting secondary characters, but ultimately the focus is very much on the prose rather than the plot, this book is just so beautifully written. Some of the lines that really jumped out at me were Lucy’s thoughts about cliched love phrases, ‘And that’s what makes me sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker.’ To a chance meeting with an author as she is out shopping, ‘She was as beautiful as her face, I thought, and I loved New York for this gift of endless encounters.’
Lucy is such a delicate and damaged character, she craves love and declares it for several characters, although not necessarily in a romantic way. She may be delicate but she is not weak, she is a wonderful juxtaposition of characteristics, like most people, which is why she is so real and relatable.
Lyrical, with such a compelling ache running through it, I was immersed from the first page and felt a little empty when it was over. At one point Lucy declares, ‘I like writers who try and tell you something truthful,’ and I fully agree, which is why this book is such a delight to read as it does just that. I would have happily spent a hundred more pages in Lucy’s company, finding out more about her life and seeing where she goes on her journey.