There cannot be a more complicated relationship than that between mother and daughter. Not even the most unconventional and peculiar of marriages can surpass the volatility and vitality of a woman and her filial offspring. From time immemorial the stories of this relationship have been captured in order to provide certainty and understanding in the most complex of associations. I know my relationship with my own mother has not escaped the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. At times my mother has been my best friend, my confidante. At other times…not so much! And let’s be honest, teenage girls, my former self included, can be somewhat challenging…
The mother-daughter nexus has been explored in fiction in many shapes and forms. From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to more modern tales such as White Oleander and The Joy Luck Club, this binary pairing fill authors’ pages with a plethora of complicated twists and turns, triumphs and tragedies. Elizabeth Strout’s offering explores a very personal fictional history in this vain.
The relationship between Lucy Barton and her mother is incredibly strained and hauntingly unsatisfying. The majority of the novel is the retelling of Lucy’s convalescence in hospital for the duration of a long illness. Her mother visits of for a matter of days and it is in the retelling of this visit, secrets of the past are unveiled and recounted. Lucy’s mother, from Lucy’s perspective, makes no attempt to bridge the gap in their translation. There’s was, and remained, a relationship that was resistant to even the most adept translator. Despondent and confused, Lucy endeavours to understand her plain-speaking and emotionally-dearth mother and in doing son learns to understand her own life a little better.
This tale is short and sharp but I felt a little like Lucy towards it’s end: a little unfulfilled and in need of more.