My Name is Lucy Barton

by

Elizabeth Strout

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The poet, John Ciardi, wrote that good writing is like an acrobat who makes the difficult appear easy.

Maybe it’s contrivance at its best to produce a work that appears so uncontrived that it brings to life a narrative without sophistry, without artifice that tumbles off the page with such simple grace and unvarnished veracity.

There is something so achingly honest here that you wonder if the writer is telling her own life story, a memoir that flows back and forth through time the way memories do.

Lucy Barton recounts a time when she is in hospital and her story explores the events of her life before, during and after that time. There is something vulnerable in her candidness because it reveals so much about her and her relationships with family and people who help shape who she is and becomes.

It is often a harsh and lonely world for the different, living on the edges, hovering on the perimeters, embellished with the trappings of the needy, ridiculed and ostracised for their poverty.

The wonderful heart lifting quality of Lucy is not so much that she finds kindness but that she recognises it, accepts with grace and gratitude and remembers it.

Lucy wants to write. Her writing teacher tells her the purpose of a writer is to explore the human condition. Lucy’s memories do that in such a simple honest way we become part of them. The fact that the novel doesn’t garnish the hardships of growing up desperately poor and alienated makes it all the more moving and significant.

Maybe not so oddly or ironically, it’s the very alienation, solitude and cold that affords Lucy her escape…she finds comfort and refuge in learning and runs towards knowledge. Unlike her siblings who remain, Lucy can love without the bitterness and resentment that shackles her brother and sister.

At the end it is a book about the human condition about love in all its forms…the simple unvarnished need and nourishment of love that we as mammals need to establish meaning in our lives. It’s about the redemption of forgiveness, understanding and love. It’s about those who touch us as we grow and the freedom we find through education, knowledge and an adventurous soul.

It is a sometimes painful story beautifully told.