Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Lucy BartonElizabeth 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.

Purchase My Name is Lucy Barton here…

Review: Oliver Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

9781471149047I missed this Pulitzer Prize winning novel the first time around and after watching the first 15 minutes of the new HBO mini-series I know I had to read the book. Reading a book whilst simultaneously watching the television show has its own challenges but for the most part I managed to read behind watching the TV show which just finished screening here in Australia..

The book is made up of short stories all set in the small coastal Maine town of Crosby featuring to various degrees Olive Kitteridge. We are introduced to Olive through her husband Henry. In other stories Olive pops up in or is mentioned on the fly. But as we get to know Olive through others’ eyes, and then her own, we get to meet a complex woman who is often misunderstood and maligned. Olive is a blunt, no-nonsense Maths teacher who only gets blunter and less tolerant for nonsense as she gets older. While to others, especially her son, she appears uncaring and brutal she is in fact a very caring and sympathetic person who is much-loved by her husband Henry whom she is fiercely protective of. Through Olive we get a fantastic insight into getting older and the fears, joys and sadness that it brings.

The TV series is a distilled version of the book focusing much more on Olive. It does a fantastic job of capturing Olive’s journey but at the expense of her surroundings. The book captures more of the town and the other people living in it and Olive’s story is interspersed with the tribulations of others. The mini-series is much more linear and continuous whereas each story in the book is self-contained and can be read and appreciated on their own. Both the book and the TV series suck you into their world and it was an absolute pleasure to read and watch both.

Buy the book here…