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The Burgess Boys Paperback – 13 Mar 2014
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'Strout's prose propels the story forward with moments of startlingly poetic clarity.' (The New Yorker on The Burgess Boys)
‘As perfect a novel as you will ever read . . . So astonishingly good that I shall be reading it once a year for the foreseeable future and very probably for the rest of my life’ (Evening Standard on Olive Kitteridge)
‘Strout animates the ordinary with astonishing force’ (The New Yorker on Olive Kitteridge)
‘Masterfully wrought’ (Vanity Fair on Olive Kitteridge)
‘Strout has a wonderful ability to turn a phrase…[these] pages hold what life puts in: experience, joy, grief, and the sometimes-painful journey to love’ (Observer on Olive Kitteridge)
'I am deeply impressed. Writing of this quality comes from a commitment to listening, from a perfect attunement to the human condition, from an attention to reality so exact that it goes beyond a skill and becomes a virtue. I have never read her before and I knew within a few sentences that here was an artist to value and respect' (Hillary Mantel on My Name is Lucy Barton)
'Strout's best novel yet' (Ann Pachett on My Name is Lucy Barton)
'An exquisite novel... in its careful words and vibrating silences, My Name Is Lucy Barton offers us a rare wealth of emotion, from darkest suffering to - 'I was so happy. Oh, I was happy' - simple joy' (Claire Messud, New York Times Book Review on My Name is Lucy Barton)
'So good I got goosebumps... a masterly novel of family ties by one of America's finest writers' (Sunday Times on My Name is Lucy Barton)
'My Name is Lucy Barton confirms Strout as a powerful storyteller immersed in the nuances of human relationships... Deeply affecting novel...visceral and heartbreaking...If she hadn't already won the Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge this new novel would surely be a contender' (Observer on My Name is Lucy Barton)
About the Author
Elizabeth Strout's tenure as a lawyer (six months) was slightly longer than her career as a stand-up comedian (one night). She has also worked as a bartender, waitress and piano player at bars across the USA. She now teaches literature in New York, where she lives with her husband and daughter.
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The strongest aspect for me is the core of the book, the portrayal of the complex relationship between the two brothers, and there are some wry, realistic dialogues. On the other hand, my enthusiasm was eroded from the outset by the to my mind unnecessary device of using a prologue to provide a narrator's advance summary of some of the key facts of the book (more than I have above), with the implication that the following chapters are her "story of the Burgess kids", possibly including a degree of speculation since, "Nobody ever knows anyone".
The story tends to lack dramatic tension, since opportunities to develop or explore situations are frequently missed. Yet plots are probably less important to Elizabeth Strout than people's thoughts and behaviour. Although it is probably meant to be a kind of "stream of consciousness", the many long, rambling sentences with banal word repetition grated on me. This may be a cultural thing - a British reader's criticism of a style that is accepted as the norm in modern American writing. Also, the continual switching between at least six points of view make the story often seem unfocused.
So, I swung between thinking this either "in the mould of Anne Tyler" or "soft-centred women's magazine material". My doubts were allayed in Book 4 which, with an increase in pace and improvement in the quality of the writing, brings the threads together for the unpredictable ending which proves satisfying for those who like to be left with a little room to imagine what they wish.
I found this a novel that held my attention, but I did not feel it was the equal of the other novels I've read by this author. I'd suggest starting with Olive Kittredge or My Name is Lucy Barton. It's admirable that she is trying something new in this novel, particularly in the Somali segments, but I didn't feel it was as successful as what I presume is more familiar material in her other novels.
I loved the first half with all the tensions being send up around the migrant community in the rather homogeneous town. But the storyline then rather lost its way and fizzled out. This was my first venture with Ms Stroute; she has such good reviews that I think I must try another
any of them, not even the highly regarded Jim who supposedly holds the family together.
The novel charters their reaction to a family crisis and by the end the family dynamic is vastly different.
Set in New York and Shirley Falls, Maine the contrast between big city and small town America provides a strong background to modern life.
This is a novel for those who enjoy watching the interactions between siblings, particularly if like me you have 2 boys and a girl, supposedly grown up but who knows....
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