Saturday 4 March 2017

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton might seem like just another simple mother/daughter story, but like all of Elizabeth Strout's stories there is much more going on under the surface than first meets the eye.

Lucy Barton is in hospital for an extended medical procedure. Her husband, busy with his work and their two young girls, arranges for her mother to come and stay awhile to help out while Lucy slowly recovers.

Simple, right?

However, we soon learn that Lucy and her mother haven't spoken in years, that Lucy's mother naps in the bedside chair rather than staying in a hotel or with her son-in-law, that they avoid talking about Lucy's husband or children or her New York life and they tread very carefully around Lucy's childhood memories.
How do we find out what the daily fabric of a life was?

The effects of abject poverty and dysfunction, the understanding that people can only do they best they can in any given situation and that that best is often not enough for those dependant on them, imbue this slight book.
We all love imperfectly.

Perspective, memory and compassion are also significant themes for Strout. Themes that she loves to tease out and explore via her characters.
She was not telling exactly the truth, she was always staying away from something.

I suspect that My Name is Lucy Barton was also a chance for Strout to address some of her ideas about the nature of writing and being a writer.
I like writers who try to tell you something truthful.
She wrote about people who worked hard and suffered and also had good things happen to them.
Her job as a writer of fiction was to report on the human condition, to tell us who we are and what we think and what we do.

I wonder if anyone ever 'accused' Strout of writing with a softness of compassion like they did her character, Sarah Payne? And why anyone would think that that was a bad thing?

The power of language and words to hide, reveal or obfuscate the truth gets a look in,
How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.

as do some simple home truths on how to treat (or not treat) others.

I think it's the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.
Do not ever think you are better than someone.

I don't normally fill a post with book quotes, but I just adore Strout's use of words. I love how she can pack a great deal of emotional truth into a few simply turned phrases.

They deserve to be highlighted and savoured.

My Name is Lucy Barton was longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women's Prize and the Man Booker Prize.

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