Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

The delight of Strout’s writing is that whilst she is examining the relationships between people close to her, we are exploring issues in the wider society and this happens again in Lucy by the Sea.

When I started the audio book, I almost thought I couldn’t listen to it as it details a divorced couple, William and Lucy moving to Maine to sit out the pandemic with Strout describing what went on so vividly it felt like living the emotions again. Lucy is unable to comprehend and William takes charge of the situation and arranges a house and takes them both there.

Whilst in Maine the family experience what a lot of families did: death from the virus, relationship breakdowns, new friendships, miscarriage and time to reflect on life. And slowly, through all of this Lucy starts to understand why people voted for Trump, why they turn to religion, what an impact loss and grief can have on someone, the relationship between mother and daughters and getting together again with your ex-husband. It is all so minutely observed through the eyes of Lucy although at times I was a little irritated with her and her self-centredness.

The book really did take me back to the lockdown days. Their success at unblocking the drain when before they would have called for someone to come out and fix it; the loss of days when every day is the same without people to mark days as special or different; the fog that comes over you with anxiety; the worry about others in your family. What the book also did is clear up the sore that has been running through several of Strout’s books and that is the impact of affairs. At last, William owns up to being an asshole when confronting his son-in-law about his affair and about his regrets over the way he has behaved. This is very much a William getting older and seeing the end of his life in sight book. Even the watch tower that stands near their house is a reminder to him that he shouldn’t have taken his German grandfather’s money, built as the wealth was on profit from the second world war. His father refused the money but he didn’t.

Excellent if almost a little too close to the times it describes.

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