Lucy by the Sea [Book Review] #LiteraryFiction

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout

In Lucy by the Sea, Lucy is coaxed into a life of isolation in coastal Maine by her ex-husband, William, during the pandemic lockdown of 2020.

Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout (cover) Image: yellow text over a graphic image of surf crashing against rocks

Genre/Categories/Setting: Contemporary Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction, Maine, Pandemic

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My Summary of Lucy by the Sea:

Thanks #NetGalley @RandomHouse @PenguinRandom for a complimentary e ARC of #LucyByTheSea upon my request. All opinions are my own.

The fourth in the Lucy Barton series finds Lucy coaxed into a life of isolation in coastal Maine by her ex-husband, William, during the pandemic lockdown of 2020. As Lucy and William face long, quiet days in forced proximity, they rekindle their friendship and put a voice to their fears, anxieties, and shortcomings.

My Thoughts:

Oh William!

I hadn’t planned on reading books in the Lucy Barton series because Strout’s style of story telling which is heavily character-driven and melancholy with almost no plot is not my favorite. However, as I continued to see good reviews roll in for Lucy by the Sea, FOMO gripped me and I decided to take a chance. Most of the reviews, though, stressed the importance of reading Oh William! first to better appreciate Lucy by the Sea. I did read Oh William! and even though Strout is a brilliant writer, it was as sad and depressing as I expected. In addition, I didn’t appreciate the (religious) profanity. It earned 3 Stars from me and I haven’t reviewed it. I will say that the background provided in Oh William! did enhance my reading experience of Lucy by the Sea.

Likable Characters?

Elizabeth Strout is a master of characterization, and I admit that I grew to like Lucy. She’s more resilient and stronger than she knows. I can especially relate to her worries about her adult children. In my opinion, William is unlikable and unreliable even though he shows some sweetness towards Lucy and has mellowed in his older age. That being said, I think Strout’s subtlety in constructing their complex relationship, the multilayered depth of characterization, and the obvious love she has for her characters is all admirable.


Even though Lucy by the Sea is still a melancholy story, I did make connections with some of the content. Although recounting the early days of the pandemic is a bit boring, it was relatable and I can remember feeling and thinking some similar thoughts. One interesting thought that Lucy has is that she has always felt isolated and on the outside looking in. The isolation of the pandemic wasn’t a new feeling for her. I remember thinking that the lockdowns weren’t that bad for me either. I was retired and didn’t have the stress of working from home or losing my job. I’d happily stay home and read every day, all day! When I grew stir crazy, I just took a drive, ordered something from a drive through (wearing a mask and wiping everything down!), and sat in the parking lot reading for an hour. Aside from not getting together for family parties and other celebrations, I didn’t feel that deprived.

I also appreciated that there was less (religious) profanity in Lucy by the Sea than in Oh William. This significantly bettered my reading experience.

In addition to the pandemic, Strout touches on various events that turned political in the last couple of years. It’s not overly opinionated, but she does mention certain events.

Strout included a tiny bit of plot in this story. William convinces Lucy they need to leave NYC in the early weeks of the pandemic. Lucy has parental anxiety and control issues. This causes some angst between Lucy and her daughters. Lucy and William are learning how to be better friends with each other (forced proximity trope)….could it rekindle their relationship? In addition to outward action, Lucy spends a great deal of time reflecting and experiences some internal growth by story’s end.

Open-Ended Conclusion

(May contain spoilers) One element in stories I’m not particularly fond of is open-ended conclusions. I don’t need the story tied up in a bow, but I need a satisfactory conclusion that doesn’t leave me guessing. All I want to say about this is that I don’t think I trust William as much as Lucy does. (no spoilers!). Maybe she’s planning another installment in the Lucy Barton series.


Thought-provoking themes include love, loss, depression, hope, isolation, regret, anxiety, trust, friendship, poverty, childhood memories, friendship, aging, and enduring love.

Recommending Lucy by the Sea

I’m definitely recommending Lucy by the Sea for fans of Elizabeth Strout and the Lucy Barton series. Some readers might not want to read this much about the pandemic (especially if you have lost a loved one or friend). I can certainly recommend Lucy by the Sea for fans of well-written and reflective (melancholy) literary fiction. Strout makes ordinary characters memorable and the minutia of daily life somewhat interesting.

Content Consideration: pandemic, death as a result of Covid-19, infertility, loss of a pregnancy, infidelity, language

Related: Lucy by the Sea is heavily character-driven fiction. You might enjoy my discussion of plot-driven versus character-driven in this post.

My Rating:  4  Stars


Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout (cover) Image: yellow text over a graphic image of surf crashing against rocks

More Information Here

Meet the Author of Lucy by the Sea, Elizabeth Strout

Author of Lucy by the Sea, Elizabeth StroutElizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.


Is Lucy by the Sea on your TBR or have you read it?

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  1. Nice review, Carol! I can completely understand FOMO when you have already decided not to continue in a series. I have been guilty of it myself. This is not a series I have been interested in, but your review of this book does make me a little curious.

  2. Carol, this book has been on my radar due to Anne Bogel’s recommendation. And I have Oh William checked out on my Kindle and on Libby/Audio. So I’ll read that one first. I’m a rule-follower. My Name is Lucy Barton was a somewhat odd book for me, but it also touched a nerve. I was in the hospital for 167 days over a 13-month period. They were slow in finding out what was wrong with me, and I had two major open abdominal surgeries and it was nothing life-threatening, as it turned out, and I finally got to come home with IV fluids every night. I found it very odd that her mom would come and sit by her bedside, but nothing was discussed about what was wrong, or what *might* be wrong! When I was in the hospital, my daughters were 7, 9 and 11, so you can imagine the stress it was on my husband, who fortunately had always been a hands-on dad and knew how to do everything except shop for new clothes for the girls. I found the book odd in that the kids were rarely discussed.

    • Thanks for sharing Susan! Books are always more meaningful when we can make personal connections. I hope you enjoy Lucy by the Sea! Happy reading!

  3. I liked this a bit more than you did, and I agree that it is a lot better than Oh! William. You make a good point about it being melancholy.

  4. Like you, other than missing family, the lockdowns didn’t cause me too much angst. I love being at home with a good book and my laptop. I’m going to pass on this series. Uplit is becoming more my style everyday.

    • Even though this book was ok and I had to read William as prep for this one, I have no interest in reading the first two of the series. Her writing is too melancholy for me. I prefer uplit as well!

  5. Take a look at The New Yorker review of Lucy by the Sea in the September 19 edition with Queen Elizabeth on the cover. It is quite in depth and aligns with your overall comments. It is not easy to categorize Lucy Barton. Every reader views Lucy differently. I hope Elizabeth Strout will write more of her.

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