In brief: Lucy is unwell in hospital. When her mother arrives, she reflects on her past and then on the present.
The good: Narrated beautifully by Kimberly Farr.
The not-so-good: I did drift off a new times while listening.
Why I chose it: On the Baileys Prize longlist.
Duration: 4 hours 12 minutes (book is 208 pages)
Narrator: Kimberly Farr
Rating: 8 out of 10
My Name is Lucy Barton is a book that has been on the edge of my radar and when it was longlisted for the Baileys Prize, I knew I had to get off my bottom and get reading. Unfortunately my work life didn’t agree with my ambition to read the longlist, but I did manage to listen to this short novel while driving to meetings and the like. (Yes, it really is 4 hours and 12 minutes and no, it’s not abridged).
My first thoughts when listening to this book was that it reminded me of last year’s shortlisted Baileys Prize book, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. Elizabeth Strout gives the same introspective look on a family, both past and present in measured tones that tell you just enough to whet your appetite and wonder what Lucy isn’t saying. However, Kimberly Farr was also the narrator of A Spool of Blue Thread so perhaps my opinion is a little biased!
The plot of the story is fairly simple – Lucy has been hospitalised for some time after a post-op infection. She’s lonely, bored and more than a little scared. But when her mother turns up to visit after many years apart, it gets her thinking about her childhood. We start off with the easy to talk about – what happened to so and so, reminiscing about happy times before things start to get a bit heavier. How Lucy was ostracised at times as a child due to her poverty. The hint of something more sinister going on. And how things are not quite right with her new life in New York with her husband.
Thoughts and discussion on the past are interrupted by issues relating to Lucy’s current state of health. These are the points that I was fascinated with, yet they were quite abstract. This is in line with the rest of the story, but it frustrated me. I like to know details and sometimes when medicine is discussed in very broad strokes I tend to think that the writer didn’t really research enough or isn’t confident in what they’ve learned. (Seriously, just ask a health professional – I can’t think of anyone I know who wouldn’t be flattered by a glamourous author asking for advice!) I found the part where Lucy is taken for urgent unspecified surgery after ‘something’ was seen on a CT scan that turned out to be a mistake really awkward. What was it? What was the problem? As a plot device, it’s useful for her to engage with the man across the hall but I felt it was unrealistic and unbecoming to the medical profession.
Rant aside, this is a beautifully written book. The way that Lucy holds things from her past and her present from the reader and herself is skilfully done. However, it does make her more difficult to engage with as a character because there is this obvious feeling of holding something. But when she does reveal something, there is a feeling of trust gained. The back and forth of the past and present also meant when I stopped following the story closely, it was more difficult to re-engage. This is probably one of the benefits of reading over listening, although Kimberly Farr did a great job!
While I liked the book and admire its technical skill, I can’t say that I loved it. In my current reading, I like more detail and more plot than this story offered.