Book Review: My Name Is Lucy Barton

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It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.

My Name Is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout

I sped through My Name Is Lucy Barton in one day. At less than 200 pages, it’s a fairly short read, and the narrator uses words sparingly in short, soft sentences. After having had a few hours to absorb it, I’m still not sure what to think about it. Like Lucy’s feelings about her own family, I feel conflicted in my own about this book.

Lucy Barton is a writer living in New York after escaping her dysfunctional, abusive household in tiny, rural Amgash, Illinois. When Lucy is hospitalized following an infection from a surgery, her estranged mother visits, spending days sleeping on a chair in her hospital room. Lucy slowly reveals her past in the narration, as well as her present, both before and after her hospitalization.

In some ways, I enjoyed this book. While I didn’t grow up in abuse and poverty as Lucy did, I did grow up in an immigrant household where I was constantly preached the importance of being frugal and not spending lavishly. I understood Lucy in some aspects, especially her guilt for her current financial standing and her inexplicable loyalty to roots that she is also somewhat ashamed of. I also felt that the book was bold about tackling the issues of abuse and poverty, and telling a story that I felt was true and realistic.

However, I found it difficult to actually like Lucy. The narrative voice is soft, gentle, and meandering, telling Lucy’s life in a series of vignettes. To be honest, I found Lucy irritating. The story immediately jumps into having me sympathize with Lucy without making me like her first, and despite Lucy’s status as someone I would normally admire (a young woman raising herself from her meagre means), I didn’t feel anything for her. Throughout the novel, Lucy only focuses on her story through short vignettes that are clearly meant to be thought-provoking, while displaying no humor or personality whatsoever. While I understand that the narrative is meant to focus on the lasting effects of abuse and poverty, I found the constant negativity tiresome. Lucy never appears to enjoy any experience, and even positive experiences are skewed to the bittersweet.

YES OR NO?: I’m on the fence about this one. I initially picked it up because it was on a “Best of 2016” list. While it’s a short read with an important message, I wouldn’t consider it an essential read. I plan on revisiting Elizabeth Strout’s work, though – maybe when I’ve made more progress on my ever-growing TBR list!

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: My Name Is Lucy Barton

  1. Oh, I knew I saw this title somewhere. It’s longlisted for the Booker Prize.
    To be honest, it’s one of the books on the list that didn’t really attract me, but you never if it’s going to be shortlisted or not! I might give it a go if it’s that short. 🙂

    1. It’s so short you can read it in a day, so it’s not much of a commitment! I feel ambivalent about reading books based on whether they’re nominated for awards – I’ve had lots of award winners disappoint me recently.

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