Saturday, 14 January 2023

Lucy by the Sea


Easily the best novel I read last year was Elizabeth Strout's Lucy by the Sea.  I love Lucy's gorgeous narrative voice.  I think this novel is as good as the first in the quartet My Name is Lucy Barton but instead of a younger Lucy in her hospital bed overlooked by New York's Chrysler building we have a newly widowed Lucy transported by ex-husband William from pre-pandemic New York to ride out the lockdown in a house overlooking the sea in Maine.

Lucy's mother is a powerful presence even though she is no longer alive.  Appalling though she could be, sometimes remembering her words 'People need to feel important' helps Lucy to get some of William's excesses in perspective.

You get the sense that this may be the last Lucy novel, not least because characters from other novels resurface.  Bob Burgess from The Burgess Boys takes regular coastal walks with Lucy, Katherine from Abide with Me appears as an adult and Lucy's gentle, troubled brother 'socially distancing for 66 years' succumbs to Covid.  

This is not a sad novel, though.  There are beautiful descriptions of the changing sea and sky throughout the pandemic year.  Bob Burgess and William arrange a studio for Lucy so that she can continue to write.  There is humour in William's insistence on doing all the cooking yet needs praise for every meal he makes while Lucy washes up.  Although still haunted by her childhood experiences she finds joy in small things - a faded table-cloth edged with pink pompoms she finds in the Maine house. 

As a trauma survivor and perhaps naturally reticent Lucy takes care not to overstep around the adult daughters she loves but when her eldest daughter is about to repeat a mistake Lucy herself once made when younger, she steps up:

I turned so that I was facing Chrissy. "You listen to me," I said. "You listen to every single word I have to tell you.  And take your sunglasses off I need to see your face,"

I'm now rereading the wonderful My Name is Lucy Barton.

I also read Darling India Knight's re-imagining of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love.  I think it just about works.  Certainly, the updated characters are clever and amusing and I kept turning the pages but without the wartime background you lose the poignancy of the original.

4 comments:

Lark said...

I still haven't read any of Strout's books. I keep meaning to, but other books keep getting in the way. ;D

JoAnn said...

Lucy by the Sea was my favorite novel of 2022, too. Elizabeth Strout is so talented!

Vintage Reading said...

Lark, I know the pressures of the tbr pile!



Vintage Reading said...

Joann, yes, extremely gifted writer.