“My Name Is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout


What I want to say about “My Name Is Lucy Barton” is:
Read it and read it soon. It’s full of truth. It will make you cry. It will make you feel less alone. It will give you courage. It will fill your imagination as you read it and echo in your memory long afterwards.

At one point in the book Lucy says, “I know a true sentence when I hear one.” Well, this seems to me to be a book full of true sentences. I kept interrupting myself as I read to make a note of another true thing. Then I realised that the only way to do justice to their truth was to read the book.

It’s a short book, the hardcover version is less than 200 pages long, but it felt longer, not because it drags but because I was intensely engaged by every page. Not a word is wasted,

“My Name Is Lucy Barton” is about “A poor girl from Amgash who loved her momma.” It’s not a plot driven book or even a character driven book. It’s a book in which Lucy, talking to us directly and frankly shares her thoughts, emotions and memories about how she and her mother were together.

In a few hours of listening I felt that I knew who Lucy Barton was, at least as well as anyone can know such a thing.

Lucy’s honesty, what she describes as “the ruthlessness of holding on to myself” filled me with admiration. I know I am not that honest with myself and I know that I shy away from writing quite as honestly as she does.

Lucy understands that it is hard to be truthful. Our memories tend to become the stories we persuage ourselves to believe. The truth they hold is not always entirely factual and may change over time. At one point she says:

“My life has changed so much that I look back on those early years and say, ‘It can’t have been that bad.’ and perhaps it wasn’t.  Perhaps.”

Later she recalls what she thought about a conversation and then says:

“Maybe I didn’t think that. Maybe I just think that now, when I write this.”

She spend some time reflecting on the question

“How do children come to know about the world. How do you learn it’s not polite to ask people why they don’t have children?”

She knows that she has

“Vast pieces of knowledge missing from childhood that cannot be replaced.”

Lucy has always been lonely, she has always been different. She has spent large part of her life not wanting to be different any more.

Lucy embraced books because reading made her feel less alone. Then one day she read a book that made her want to write a book and the course of her life changed. She finally had something that was hers.

As she tells us her story, Lucy has already had novels published yet she says of herself;

“I know nothing of the lives of others. So much of life is speculation.”

This is a book about love. It is not romantic or sentimental. It is an honest account of how complicated and painful and necessary love is. Lucy Barton knows that

“We all love imperfectly.”

but she does not see that not as a weakness but an unaviodable truth.

I’ve never read Elizabeth Strout before but I’m now eager to read anything else that she’s written.

Elizabeth Strout talks well about her writing.

Here you’ll find a FreshAir podcast

Below is a discussion on YouTube

Kimberley Farr does a splendid job as the narrator. Click on the SoundCloud link below to her a sample.

7 thoughts on ““My Name Is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout

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