My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Man Booker long list)


This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true. But when I see others walking with confidence down the sidewalk, as though they are free completely from terror, I realize I don’t know how others are. So much of life seems speculation.

I can’t tell you what a lovely morning this has been, sitting with my Lavazza and our lab, Humphrey, slowly absorbing every word on these pages; sometimes stopping to record a sentence in my Midori commonplace book. Like the one at the top of the post, or this one:

Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.

Strout’s writing has the gentleness and insight of true wisdom, so refreshing after feeling bashed over the head by The Sellout.

When Elizabeth Strout speaks of racial inequality, she writes sentences which tear my heart like this one:

How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right.

She does not deny truth, nor, I believe, does she soften it. She simply presents it in an unassuming way, and leaves no part of life undiscussed; from poverty to childhood, illness to parenting, love to marriage, she had me quietly weeping in several places.

I love this book.

34 thoughts on “My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Man Booker long list)

  1. I am so pleased to read that you loved this one. I started reading the first chapter in the aisle of my local Barnes & Noble and it is now in my TBR queue. I will probably get to it later this month after I finish “The Sympathizer” (which I am liking, so far, but not loving).

    Liked by 1 person

    • This will probably be in my top ten for 2016, I loved it that much. It’s so tender, without being mushy, and it moved me in so many ways: as a wife, mother, and daughter. I wonder how it will strike you from a male perspective, but I can’t see you being disappointed.

      I’ve seen The Sympathizer all around, and it interests me that you like it, but aren’t over the top about it. It’s hard to find the rare treasure even when someone reads as much as we do.


    • Thank you for reading them, Valorie. I couldn’t do a “full” review, as in a summary, because to me the book is so much more than a sum of its parts. It’s impossible to describe in terms of plot, as what struck me most deeply was the heart, not the action.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps you had read so much praise that you were disappointed? I’m not sure what was the let down for you, but all that I’ve read by Strout was Amy and Isabella, and I liked this even more.


      • I’ve read Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, and I was hoping for the kind of characterization she gave Olive. I feel like I know what she would do, now, in almost any situation. I don’t feel that way about Lucy; her motives are mysterious.


        • I haven’t read either of those, but I plan to. I like what you say about Lucy’s motives being mysterious. She is a character of great depth, to me. So interesting.


    • The quote regarding racial inequality was a little piece that I only particularly picked up on after reading Beatty’s book right before this. Strout was speaking of how cruel the whites were to the Native Americans when she mentioned how her brother loved to read, especially the books about “that girl on the prairie.” It’s something I’ve seen more sharply as I’ve reread the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to my class. But, this is only one of the many things she touches on in this novel. She actually doesn’t leave much untouched, just briefly landing on many issues. I could read it again to better absorb them all. Let me address the “winner” question as I respond to Arti below…


    • I’m so glad you’ll read it, too, Arti. The question you ask is a difficult one, though. Rarely do the books I’m greatly moved by emerge as the winner. I’m thinking of last year’s contender A Little Life, for example. And the translated book prizes seem to go to the novels with the most politically correct impact, as I mentioned with The Iraqi Christ in the previous post.
      So, I wonder if a book as gently moving as this one is will be granted the award. Plus, Elizabeth Strout has won significant prizes before, so the judges may be looking for a fresh name. However, for me? It’a my favorite book of the bunch so far, and it will probably stay there as I work my way through the long list. We’ll see.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear M, I’m so happy you loved this book. I did too! I read it earlier this year and fell in love with it completely. The writing was just superb and reminded me why I love to read. Your review is spot on! Reading your post makes me want to read it again. xo


    • Thank you, Nadia. This book is so good that I want to reread it, too, and buy it for my personal collection. The copy in the post is from the library; hopefully they have the other novels by Strout I haven’t yet read.


  3. Although I didn’t love this book as much as you did, there’s a lot about it that I did appreciate. The distance between Lucy and her mother and the tension and confusion that come from that were depicted very well. And Strout was trying to do some interesting stylistic things, which I thought were effective. But there were some niggling things that bugged me and kept me from fully sinking in.


    • I would love to know those niggling things. You are such an informed reader, where I intend to plow through what I read getting of general sense of, “Loved it.” Or, more likely these days, not.


      • The main thing had to do with the level of detail in Lucy’s memories. Like Lucy didn’t give the name of the Little House books but seemed to remember the books clearly. There were several instances like that. I think Strout was trying to show how memory isn’t always reliable and sometimes fixates on odd details, but I didn’t find all of it convincing. (Like I said, pretty niggly stuff, but hard for me not to notice once I see it.)


        • Thanks for explaining what you meant; I can see your point of view. I saw her writing contain a lot of vagueness, and I think that contributed to the ambiance, for me.


    • That racial inequality quote is a good one, but remember it very tiny. It is not the focus of the book, I just picked it up after Paul Beatty’s satire reviewed in the previous post.


    • Fortunately, I wasn’t expecting anything more than I got; I think it helps to come into a novel with few expectations. I was so mesmerized by her voice that I didn’t really care where she (Strout) took me.


  4. I loved Olive Kitteridge, re-reading passages 2-3 times, so I’m sure this will also be a winner. I’ve been holding off, waiting for the hype (and the negative reviews) to die down. I do so much better reading a book after it’s been out for several years. My expectations are far too high if it’s the latest best seller on the shelves.


    • Completely agree! In fact, I try never to read a best seller. Too much hype=too much potential disappointment.

      But, when you get to this you will love it. Promise. xo


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