Sunday, January 31, 2016

My Name is Lucy Barton - by Elizabeth Strout: Book Review

My 5 star reviews are never the same, that is the stars don't always mean the same. For example, I read All the Light We Cannot See, and North and South, and The Art Forger, just to name a few that got the 5 stars on Good Reads. Obviously, they don't all have the same literary value, nor do I even claim they impacted me in the same way. But at the time I read them, they struck something that made me either give them a 5 right after I finished reading the book, or after I gave a 4, reconsidered and gave a 5. Does that make sense?

The same is with My Name is Lucy Barton. I don't know if I mentioned this here on the blog, but lately I have been in a sort of funk as far as reading the list I accumulated on Net Galley goes. Sure, I picked the books, sure I thought they were interesting, but for some reason they were not appealing to my reading longings right now. My Name is Lucy Barton was a request from Net Galley and it took the influence of social media to convince me to start reading it. I'm a snob when it comes to books mentioned or talked about on various social channels. This matters not, because I have overcome the funk of Net Galley (FNG, I shall call it). 

I approached this with low expectations, really. Oh, is everyone over the moon excited about this book? Well, clearly, they are over-exaggerating! I started reading it on Saturday afternoon, I was excited about the wide space between the lines (don't judge!), and this made the reading faster. By the time I went to bed at almost 12am, I was almost 80% into the book, and I finished it today. 

It tells the story of a woman named Lucy Barton. The story! It starts with her being in the hospital for an appendix surgery gone slightly wrong. Slowly at first, she takes us through the main memories and events of her life, probably triggered by the visit of the mother she hasn't seen in about nine years. We learn about Lucy's childhood, about the poverty her family lived in, about how she managed to leave that behind to go to college, how she got married and had a family of her own, how she discovered her skill and dream of being a writer. If you think this is some amazing story, well, your expectations will probably go unmet. However, if you want to feel close to a character, to be surprised at the turn of every page of the similarities that exist between you and the said character, then, dear reader, this is the book you want to pick up.

I think I was the most surprised, to be honest. It is after all, the story of a woman well into adulthood, and her life has nothing in common with mine. This is not the sort of book you want to get to the end of so that you find out how it ends. No, you're more curious and interested in the layers this woman will peel away until you see who she really is. Although she starts with her appendix surgery, she quickly goes to deal with the past, mentions details and events from the future, that is the future in relation with the moment of the surgery, and only towards the end you find out she decided to write her story, and the surgery was merely her starting point. You learn of this Lucy Barton (affectionately called Button by her husband), the woman who meets every unclear situation with "I understand it", although gradually you're no longer convinced she does, the woman who states she "loves" a lot of people from her life she writes about, but one can't help but wonder if the person she loves fulfills an affection void left unmet in her shaky childhood. She can't, after all, remember a time when her mother kissed her. She takes the reader to the roots of who she is, and those roots take us to the childhood she carries all over her life with her, and which somehow made her believe she's unlovable and unloved. She offers her affection almost freely, and clings to New York for a chance to have a home in a city that's not the home town that failed her.

I especially loved how she repeatedly brought to the front the influence Sarah Payne had on her. It was Sarah Payne who taught her to come to the page without judgments (hence all the "I understand's"?), who told her she has a story to write, and she should write it.

Lucy Barton wrote her story, and it is a lonely woman's story that struck something in this reader. Because she claims "All life amazes me", there is hope.

I requested this book via Net Galley and was offered a free ebook of this book. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

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