Lucy is in hospital in New York, separated from her husband and young children while her illness rumbles on. Her mother, who she has not seen for many years, comes to visit her, staying by her bedside for several days. The reasons for the physical and emotional distance in the relationship, and the significance of this brief but intense time of conditional reconnection, are illuminated beautifully in this short and powerful novel.
Strout is sharp and sometimes funny, not only on family relationships but on New York life generally: “I have gone to places in this city where the very wealthy go. One place is a doctor’s office. Women, and a few men, sit in the waiting room for the doctor who will make them look not old or worried or like their mother”. But the heart of the book is about the shame and stories of family life, and how we can suddenly be reimmersed in these at moments of strain. Strangely comforting and always interesting, the revelations keep coming right to the end.
I’m now keen to read her earlier work, Olive Kitteridge, having been overwhelmed by the television version with Frances McDormand. My Name is Lucy Barton well deserves its place on the Booker Prize Longlist, along with the excellent Hot Milk (https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2016/07/05/hot-milk-by-deborah-levy/).
Review by Bethan