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Book review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elisabeth Strout

When I am reading Elisabeth Strout’s books I can almost hear the voices of the characters. They seem to be so solidly constructed in their mannerisms and temperaments that their voices lift off the page.

It is no different with Lucy Barton. The first novel of a trilogy (so far) about Lucy and her husband, William, this novel explores Lucy’s complicated life, from her upbringing of poverty and neglect.

Much of the story centres on Lucy’s relationship with her mother, who was a complicate woman who struggled to express any warmth or affection to her daughter.

However, rather than making Lucy pull away from her mother, she continued to try to get her mother to show her love in some form.

It reminded me of study carried out by scientists in the pasts, who studied monkeys and their responses to cruelty from a mother figure. Instead of resigning themselves to their situation, they desperately tried to win back the love they craved.

In My Name is Lucy Barton, this need is clearest when Lucy is in hospital and almost begs her mother for affection. Heartbreakingly, she is again disappointed.

For me, the real beauty of the story is in Lucy’s rich voice as she reflects on the impact of her past on her relationship with William. It’s a kind of rags to middle class story that reveals the complexity of the transition, and the ways in which the change is not as seamless as the fairytale might suggest.

Lucy Barton seems endlessly fragile as a result of this, and willing to give her love to anyone who is closest, including the doctor who shows her kindness while he is treating her illness.

While she might be more comfortable as an adult, Lucy cannot break away from her upbringing.

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