Tuesday, January 12, 2016

book review: My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

The backstory: My experiences reading Elizabeth Strout have been uneven. I liked Olive Kitteridge, which won the Pulitzer Prize, but I didn't love it, mostly because I wanted more of a novel feeling than interconnected short stories. I was not very fond of The Burgess Boys, despite "beautifully detailed prose and richly developed characters." My review for Amy and Isabelle hasn't posted yet, but it was my favorite Strout to date. Until My Name Is Lucy Barton. Update: My Name Is Lucy Barton has been longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Prize.

The basics:  "Lucy Barton, a writer, married with two young children, is in the hospital in New York City due to an infection from a simple appendix operation. (Her medical condition is incidental—it’s not about the illness). Her mother, whom she hasn’t seen in years, comes from Amgash, Illinois, to visit her, and sits by her bedside, reminiscing about people she and Lucy know from Lucy’s childhood, before Lucy went off to college and never returned."

My thoughts: I have a soft spot for big little novels. At just over 200 pages, My Name Is Lucy Barton is indeed a little novel, but it's scope, and what Strout accomplishes with it, are immense. This novel took my breath away with its span of time; coverage of past, present, future; writing, and characters. The interior voice of Lucy Barton is incredibly strong, and I marveled at her and how Strout constructs her voice. On the surface, she shares some similarities with Strout. Most notably, Barton is a novelist, but one who came to it later in life and found some success. The insight and commentary on fiction was perhaps my favorite part of the novel: "It's not my job to make readers know what's a narrative voice and not the private view of the author."

At times, My Name Is Lucy Barton reads like a memoir. At times it reads like a diary. At times it reads as though Lucy is telling the reader a story. Yet underneath all of these subtle stylistic tones is an incredibly well-developed structure. This tension amazes me.

Favorite passage: "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."

The verdict: My Name Is Lucy Barton is my favorite Elizabeth Strout novel. While there are hallmarks of other Strout novels, such as a mother-daughter relationship, a titular, dynamic female character, and a nonlinear narrative, there's a freshness and rawness to My Name Is Lucy Barton. I will remember Lucy's voice most, as the way in which she writes and thinks are even more fascinating than the journey of her life.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 208 pages
Publication date: January 12, 2016
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy My Name Is Lucy Barton from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Elizabeth Strout's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter

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1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you liked this book so much. I have yet to read anything by Strout and have a readalong of Olive Kitteridge lined up, but I can hear this one calling my name.


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