Pulitzer prize winner Elizabeth Strout is at it again! ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’, published by Viking, an imprint of Random House, is an exploration into one woman’s past in small-town America, and the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters.
‘My Name is Lucy Barton’ is, on the surface, very simple. Lucy is lying ill in hospital, and her mother comes to visit. However, this conjures a whole wealth of memories, emotions, and realisations. I found the relationship between Lucy and her mother to be extremely ambiguous. Bitter memories tie them very close, and by necessity also push them apart. I almost wish the book was longer, because the conversations and memories shared between them was, for me, the strongest part of the novel. The love and anger and regret between them was so nuanced and complex – this is undoubtedly one of the best representations of the mother-daughter bond that I have ever read.
The writing style is very sparse. It feels a bit like a diary – a little chaotic, with all those memories whirling into one, and written in first-person. For once I absolutely agreed with the choice to write it in first-person, because the main impetus of the novel comes from Lucy’s thoughts and comments about her experiences. She isn’t quite an unreliable narrator, I don’t think, but there is the definite sense that she is still keeping things from the reader, and perhaps also herself. This is how all first-person narration should be done.
Other than the mother-daughter relationship, the novel also discusses the shift from rural to urban environments, in this case, New York City, and the writing process. I often cringe a bit when characters are also authors, because it tends to be a bit self-indulgent. However, Lucy’s experiences in writing classes felt intensely real, and there wasn’t the least bit of pretentiousness, so I thoroughly enjoyed this particular exploration of the relationship between the writer and their memories. The novel finally also explores the AIDS crisis, which I thought was very sensitively written. These sections absolutely devastated me. And I loved it.
I would thoroughly recommend ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’. It is quietly intense, with moments of such realism and complexity that absolutely took my breath away.