Lucy by the Sea: Elizabeth Strout’s latest work is almost brilliant but falls short of her high water mark

Looks like Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout’s recurring first-person protagonist, has magic with the Booker Prize. My Name is Lucy Barton, the story of Lucy’s relentless rise from poverty and her complicated relationship with an abusive mother, was shortlisted for the 2016 awards. , Oh William!, the story of her first husband’s journey to find her lost family, was shortlisted. And it’s not just the Booker judges – readers and critics alike (including this) have fallen for the innocent but unlucky character from Amgash, Illinois.

o, the latest “Lucy” novel, Lucy by the sea, live as expected? Hard to say.

If we consider the characteristics that make the books Lucy sing, we must consider the voice. Lucy’s pure way of seeing the world and expressing what she sees is incredibly compelling. And then there’s the structure. What may seem messy and disjointed at first is always revealed to keep the integrity of the mystery. Strout tells her stories loosely, through memories, anecdotes, dreams, and the result is surprisingly powerful and integrated. (On the other hand, this narrative can be damaging.)

All of these attributes apply to Lucy by the seaand still missing something essential.

The fact that this is a “pandemic novel” may have something to do with it. Lucy finds herself quarantined in a beach house in Maine with the aforementioned ex-husband. Like many people, she couldn’t fully absorb what was happening. “It’s strange that the mind doesn’t take in anything until it can,” she mused. Ordinary people, friends and acquaintances die. William, the scientist, tries to control the uncontrollability by forcing friends and family members to limit interactions. Lucy thought of a writer friend who had invited her to dinner before it even started. “I told her I was too tired at that moment [and] she said, as soon as you get some rest, we’ll get together! “

By right, the mood will feel eerie and high – you barely need me to tell you what’s up with the writer friend – but instead, it feels good. In a time that feels strangely strange, the pandemic always plays out like an inevitable cliché. Furthermore, it’s only been a year since Oh William!the book feels a bit close, and similar, to that outing.

However, fans of Strout will be thrilled by the clash between her fictional worlds. Olive Kitteridge makes an indirect appearance, while Bob Burgess (of The Burgess Boys) play an important role.

In the background, the real world performs its daily catastrophes. One policeman knelt “for nine minutes and 29 seconds on the neck of a Black man”. Protesters storm the Capitol. Lucy felt “whispers of a civil war” moving around her “like a breeze that I can’t feel but can feel”. Looks like Strout wants to record history as it is.

But Lucy by the sea works better as a book about relationships than a book about any historical moment in the real world.

In a way, it’s a love story between two aging ex-wives. William took Lucy to Maine because “her life I wanted to save”. Lucy feels that “the only real home I’ve ever had in all my life, I’ve had with you”. It’s almost romantic. But there is insecurity beneath the surface. Is William acting out of love or self-interest? Maine is where his half-sister lives, which means he may be subconsciously attracted to her.

Not that Lucy is immune to acting for self-interest. At one point, she recalled a time when she could not give up her position in line for an elderly man. “I learned something that day. About themselves and others, and their self-interest. “

Many other relationships revolve around this central relationship. There is a relationship between Lucy and her daughters, these daughters and their partners, Lucy and Bob Burgess, etc. Strange and remarkable metaphors recur alongside these relationships. , and speaks to the strange and discordant nature of human interaction. When Lucy asked William to hug her closer, he said, “If I hug you any closer, I’ll be behind you.” At one point, Lucy recalled a video she once watched of ping-pong balls “bouncing around randomly and randomly hitting each other.” She thought, “It’s the same with everyone… if we’re lucky we’ll meet someone. But we always bounce again, at least a little bit.”

Video of the day

Self-interest, collective interest, connection, isolation – these are pertinent topics, with or without a pandemic. The book regurgitates them in subtle and interesting ways. The writing style is fluid, with a simple but emotional look: “We sat at a table on the sidewalk – the sun shone down on us as if it would shine forever.”

The book is almost brilliant. But, being a longtime Strout fan, I was waiting for something when I read – it was the painful, hopeful punch that never came.


Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Fiction: Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout
Viking, 304 pages, commercial paperback € 17.21; eBook £9.99 Lucy by the Sea: Elizabeth Strout’s latest work is almost brilliant but falls short of her high water mark

Fry Electronics Team

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