MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON by Elizabeth Strout

What a strange little book. Somehow it was longlisted for this year's Man Booker prize, I am no expert, but to me, it just didn't have the wow factor that so many other nominees have.  I don't really think it gave anything new or novel or stunningly different that would make it stand out. For a start it revolves around the well worn and trodden theme of mother-daughter relationships, moving around each other like a couple of tigers to arrive at a dubious companionable middle ground.

Narrated in both the present and past - the mid 1980s - Lucy is reflecting on a time when she was in hospital for nine weeks following complications from an appendectomy. At the time she was married to William,  the mother of two young daughters, a daughter herself, a sister and a successful writer. This forced rest has given plenty of time for her brain to begin the process of life reflection.  She is bored, missing her husband, missing her girls, wondering who is looking after them, if they are missing her. She wakes one afternoon to find her mother, whom she has not seen for many years, sitting in her room. For the next five days and nights, her mother is almost always there, and so they begin to talk. Lucy begins to think about her early life, her father, her siblings. And yet I don't recall learning why Lucy has been estranged from her mother.

Without going into too much detail, her childhood and early family life was not nice. Her parents were dirt poor, exhausted, broke and tired. There was little attention, love, engagement for the children. Lucy managed to rise above all this, discovering the library at school, it being the warmest place she could find,  and make a good life for herself. This could well be the source of the breakdown in communication with her mother and her family. But during the five days in hospital, both mother and daughter revert to those roles with pet names, gentle discipline, letting the barriers down. In that small room they both work hard at repairing the damaged bond between them. But then after Lucy comes out of hospital, it is another nine years before she sees her mother again, and you wonder why. For Lucy it was easier not to. Which seems weird.

The novel is certainly beautifully written, empathetic and poignant, but there is so much missing from the story and from the characters themselves. Things are glossed over, hinted at, the surface barely touched. It is not a large book and the focus is mostly on what is taking place with Lucy and her mother, so maybe there isn't room to expand too much on these sub plots. For me, this book was simply ok. 

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