Who knew that My Name is Lucy Barton would produce such a flourishing industry? T-shirts and tea towels next? The novel was such a slight little book, physically that is – it packed a big punch.
A single person narrator (LB) recalls a time when she was ill for several months. Some complication, possibly not even physical, keeping her in hospital after a fairly routine operation.
Her two small children were clearly scared when they visited, seeing their mother so thin and so sick; her husband had hospital-phobia (who doesn’t? But some of us rise above it) and he gets her a single room because he cannot bear the woman who is clearly dying in the next bed. This causes Lucy chronic loneliness, as well as being ill.
Then she wakes up to find her mother sitting at the end of the bed. That is enough for now, anything else would be a spoiler.
The writing is sparse, direct and funny at times, laugh out loud funny occasionally and heart-rending. Amgash does not seem to have been a good place to grow up. Though during the book it is clear that Lucy has left her family and roots behind and is living in New York, AIDS has struck the gay community, but in her evident loneliness, Lucy even manages to envy those couples walking past the apartment block where she lives. It would seem that some people can be lonely even when married. Too right, Lucy!
The sequel, Anything is Possible, is centred in Amgash. So we get to meet, in person, many of the characters only referred to in My Name is Lucy Barton. Elizabeth Sprout has a vivid and extraordinary facility for character and place, you can really hear the wind in the fields of corn; you can smell the poverty and cringe and experience the terrible isolation. Amgash is not, seemingly, a huddle of houses, it is spread out so that one dwelling or farm is far, maybe even a drive apart, from the next.
But the two books together make a nice whole. Contained and absorbing. So imagine my surprise when I saw that the first book had been remodelled as a play. How was that going to work?
The answer is brilliantly!