This is the fourth book by the American novelist Elizabeth Strout to be narrated by the bestselling author Lucy Barton, who grew up in rural Illinois and now lives in New York. My Name is Lucy Barton (2016) and Anything is Possible (2017) focused on her relationships with her parents and siblings and explored the shadow cast by her childhood experiences of poverty and abuse. In Oh William! (2021), shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize, the focus fell on her first husband, the serial philanderer lamented in the title, who re-enters her life after the death of her second husband.
The appeal of those books had less to do with plot than with the accumulation of persuasive bulletins from the front line of everyday emotional life. The fourth instalment, Lucy by the Sea – essentially, Lucy does lockdown – retreads the formula against the backdrop of the pandemic. It opens in March 2020, when William, a scientist ostentatiously alert to the looming catastrophe, tells Lucy to make arrangements to leave New York and sit out the pandemic with him in Maine. ‘I did not know that I would never see my apartment again … I did not know that my relationship with my daughters would change in ways I could never have anticipated.’
This statement serves to put the reader on notice to persist through the more undramatic moments of Lucy and William’s ensuing isolation – the unclogging of a bathtub, for example, or the piecing together of a jigsaw of a van Gogh painting. The twin marital crises faced by