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Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout


I read this charming, enthralling and insightful book in one sitting. Perhaps that is all that needs to be said about Elizabeth Strout’s latest book, set once again in coastal Maine. From the outset, I had the feeling I’d read an earlier book by the same author and, sure enough, recalled that it was Olive Kitteridge; a book I’d also loved.


Again, the focus of this book is an older woman, recently bereaved and at a crossroads in her life. But this time, the central character Lucy is not alone in her crisis: the book is set - initially in New York – as Lucy is preparing for an author tour after the release of her most recent book.


After the death of her second husband, she has formed a pleasant, nostalgic alliance with her first husband William; and when her tour is suddenly cancelled due to the pandemic, he begs her to leave New York to stay with him for an indefinite time in Maine. She is intrigued but not yet convinced of the severity of the Coronavirus epidemic, which is just beginning to unfold in New York.


I recall being told two years ago that writing a novel about the pandemic, and thus confining oneself to a fixed period in time, would be a mistake for an author. However, in the past week I’ve read two such books by well-respected authors and both of them are cracking reads.


I’ll review Gavin McCrea’s excellent book, Cells, at a future time, but for now, perhaps because we are just at what appears to be the tail end of three years of intense immersion in the Covid pandemic, we are still looking for shared experience to make sense of it all. For whatever reason, I found myself really identifying with Lucy’s experience as she tries to remain close to family while in isolation.


Like Lucy, I have two adult daughters and I just found myself nodding in agreement with the central character on numerous occasions as she tried to be available, useful, and supportive, while not actively interfering in her daughter’s lives. Quite the emotional tight-rope.


I loved this book. It is so compassionate and wise and a wonderful insight in to the precarious times in which we live.


And, of course I cannot complete this review without applauding the design of the hard cover with its wonderful illustration and solid blue spine which has the nostalgic look of cloth reinforcement, reminiscent of a much-loved classic. I also love the sky-blue end pages which really set the scene for exactly this kind of book, which will keep you in your seat until the end.


Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Penguin Random House


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