My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Penguin)


“There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in hospital for almost nine weeks”

THE thing about writing solely on a macro level is that there is no horizon over which the sun can set, there is no doorknob to turn, no door to open, the cast have no faces. You swap the human condition for a human condition.

Our Lucy of the title goes to the dance as it were, but she does not actually, er, dance. She just lies around in a hospital bed fantasizing about the kindness of her doctor and listening to her mother recant tales of broken marriages.

I did enjoy this little riposte to the self indulgent wingeing from her mother:

“Lucy Damn-dog Barton. I didn’t fly across the country to have you tell me that we are trash. My ancestors and your father’s ancestors were some of the first people in this country, Lucy Barton. I did not fly across the county to tell me that we’re trash. They were good decent people. They came ashore at Provincetown, Massachusetts, and they were fishermen and they were settlers. We settled this country…”

Lucy even shares her chats with her writing tutor as she is composing this. Maybe my arguement is really with the tutor.

What this is not really, despite its lavish (un)critical praise, is a novel, rather it is a portrait in which no knife is unsheathed, no pistol cocked, just a haughty chin raised to the world. Equally you could say it is a photograph of a long moment in time, of an era with sub themes like Aids and American class brushed in for a little shading.

How much stronger this would have been if all this had just just been a swirl of background to an interlaced story/plot. At present it does not have much to say for itself that Mabel down the pub can manage for a pint (price of) of stout.

My biography shelf favours people who have led interesting, often flamboyant lives not little girls raised in a garage who get lucky (unexplained) and make some money and feel sorry for themselves.








About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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