My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

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A Melbourne newspaper reviewed My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout yesterday and said wonderful things about the story. Exquisite. Masterful. Etc. I expect the reviewer is better qualified to write a review or critique than me, but I didn’t like the story or style at all. I loved Olive Kitteridge by this author, so I am feeling doubly disappointed.

The narrator, Lucy Barton, is in hospital recovering from a major operation or illness, (I forget which) and is laying around reflecting on her life when her mother shows up to sit with her.

Lucy has not seen or been in contact with anyone in her family in years. Her family lived in poverty when she was a child, partly because her father was traumatised during the war. Growing up, Lucy felt different to her peers, always dirty, hungry, and with no knowledge of popular culture, as her family did not own a television. They lived in the garage of her uncle, (or great uncle, again, I forget which) until he died and they moved into his house.

The visit gives Lucy and her mother the opportunity to talk and reconnect, however they never manage to talk about anything more important than what happened to a neighbour who left her husband for another man.

At the time of her operation, Lucy is married with two young daughters. She doesn’t work outside of the home but knows herself to be a writer on the strength of having had two stories published in magazines. Somehow she then manages to write and have My Name is Lucy Barton published, but I didn’t believe in her character as a person or as a writer.

Lucy tells her story in sentences which are short and undescriptive. I was left hanging whenever I wanted to find out more about her past, such as the ‘snake in the truck’ episode during her childhood, which to me was a story that needed to be told in more detail. Lucy’s father shot two Germans in the back during the war, but we don’t find out any more about that either, or the nature of his trauma. These are events that shaped Lucy’s life, but despite the advice she is given to be honest in order to be a writer, the character holds back, teasing the reader with a story but never telling it.

If there is more to My Name is Lucy Barton then the message is too cryptic for me, because I didn’t get it.

 

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