Having read 'Olive Kitteridge' long ago in the early days of this blog I looked forward to getting 'My Name is Lucy Barton' by Elizabeth Strout from the library. In it we have a woman nearly as enigmatic as Olive, not the eponymous Lucy but her mother, who sits, unassuming, in the corner of her hospital room and doesn't give much away. Hospitals definitely have an otherworldly feeling, as if you have stepped temporarily out of your life. This feeling is exacerbated for Lucy by the arrival of her long estranged mother, who sits and chats as if they spent time like this together every week. Certain topic remain untouched, but you sense that their distance has been physical rather than emotional, Lucy left home and the lack of contact has been disinterest rather than anger; the mother seems to feel shame for the poverty of Lucy's childhood, but Lucy does not appear to blame her or resent it.
The book is made up of layers of remembrance, the story being told by a much older Lucy, recalling these few days spent with her mother, but also their talk is all remembrance of the people and places of her childhood even further in the past, with hardly a mention of her husband and daughters waiting at home. It is quite an intense portrait of a mother/daughter relationship, but one that I recognised; whatever the passage of time you always want your mum when you feel vulnerable, and as a mum you inevitably want to offer support and comfort. Although Lucy is quite seriously ill there is no drama as such and it is all quite ordinary, though the events appear to become something of a turning point for Lucy. I read it very quickly, just allowing myself to become absorbed in their quiet, reclusive world.
This little quote, utterly out of context, was the only thing I noted down. It captures something of the life that Lucy had, that she left, and maybe why she left, but I am not sure:
"Right after I found out about my college admission, I showed my high school English teacher a story I had written. I can remember very little of it, but I remember this: He had circled the word 'cheap.' The sentence was something like 'The woman wore a cheap dress.' Don't use that word, he said, it is not nice and it is not accurate. I don't know if he said that exactly - but he had circled the word and gently told me something about it that was not nice or good, and I have remembered that always." (p.125)
The book is on the Women's Fiction Prize longlist, and I predict will make the shortlist because she is such a well respected writer.