Rating: 4.5 stars
I picked up My Name is Lucy Barton in a jetlag haze at Euston station. I’d bought one of those irritating Virgin super-off-peak tickets and I’d been awake for 24 hours and, because I was looking at three more before my train was going to depart – or at least the train I could afford to take – I shopped for books in order to keep myself awake. Of course, this meant poor old Lucy Barton didn’t get read right away, but sat in my bag, waiting for the opportune moment.
That moment was another train journey, another few hours to put away. I was meant to be having an important catch-up with the person opposite me, and certainly I wanted to hear all of their gossip, but I did find Lucy hard to put down. I enjoyed this book very much. There was a remarkable lightness of touch about it that is so often missing from novels. Not too much is explained. Not too much is described. Sharp images come into focus, but Strout doesn’t worry about describing every moment. We get the characters firmly, strongly, vividly, but without explanation – or at least, in most cases without explanation – of how they came to be the way they are.
My Name is Lucy Barton is the story of a woman’s life, how she came to be the way she is. A lot of it deals with the deep economic divide in America, but a lot of it, too, is just about personal experience, about the way that people relate to one another. It’s a charming book.
So why not 5 stars? Well, it’s not really poor old Lucy’s fault, but I’ve noticed a trend in current “literary” novels that has started to irritate me: a lot of main characters are written as naive, childlike, sort of wide-eyed with wonder at the world, or engaging with the things around them in a deliberately naive way. It annoyed me in The Buried Giant, and it was the reason I gave up on a book called The Portable Veblen even though, quite by chance, I actually knew of the work of the economist Veblen before I picked it up. (The book is not about him.) Now, the style does work and make sense in this book, but it also feels like something that is very trendy now.
Nonetheless, I would really recommend this book. It’s delicate, moving, engaging. And not just for reading on the train.
Reviewed by Louise