My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, Viking, £12.99 (ebook £9.49)
Exploring the complicated nature of love and familial relationships, My Name Is Lucy Barton begins with a lonely mother-of-two confined to a hospital bed in New York City in the mid-1980s. Forced to confront the challenges of her past when her estranged mother comes to visit, Lucy also has to contend with the fact her future lies in the balance unless she recovers from a mystery illness which appears following the removal of her appendix.
From the very first page, author Elizabeth Strout sucks you into an exquisitely written story, which is anecdotally retold in perfectly constructed short chapters. From Lucy’s troubled and isolated childhood, to her current day marital problems and parenting dilemmas, it’s a brutally honest, absorbing and emotive read.
Although the novel is primarily driven by Lucy’s voice and explores her familial and romantic relationships, the reader is also privy to the failed marriages and emotional breakdowns of friends, relations and acquaintances from the past.
These riveting cautionary morality tales revealed by Lucy’s gossiping mother at her bedside are interwoven seamlessly within the main narrative, adding another layer of poignancy to a story which takes an unflinching look at the complexity of human relationships and, in particular, the notion of female autonomy.
Previously winning a Pulitzer for her much-lauded novel Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth’s follow-up is just as powerful, insightful and unforgettable. One of the book’s biggest achievements is that it never once strays into over-sentimental or mawkish territory, instead taking a tempered look at very complex and emotional topics.
The author has a keen eye for detail and a graceful way with words that her make her fifth novel an absolute joy to read.
The one and only problem with it is that you won’t want to put it down when you get to the last page.