Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton is a delectably quiet, understated, but powerful novella. It is about a woman unravelling the tapestry of her life, with particular emphasis on the five days she spent with her estranged mother by her side during a nine week hospital stay. Don’t let its page count fool you; this is a story of great depth and plenty of nuance, brought to life through Strout’s flawless, elegiac prose.
The novel is about relationships, predominantly between Lucy and her mother, but also with her father, a professor from college, a neighbour, a former writing teacher, the doctor who cared for her during her stay in hospital, and many more. Strout exposes the complexity of these relations, unveiling the dark undercurrent that runs between some, divulging parochial love affairs and unjustified, one-sided friendships and affiliations founded on falsehoods. But whereas other writers might do this clunkily, with long-winded passages of meandering lyricism, Strout’s narrative maintains its distinct poetry without the unnecessary accoutrements.
My Name is Lucy Barton delivers hard, emotional truths. Honest and affecting, it’s a real treat, and achieves more in its 200 pages than most other novels you’ll read this year. This is storytelling at its deceptively-simplest and finest.