The mother and daughter portrayed in Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout are at odds with each other. The events of one long sweltering summer in Shirley Falls are simple, familiar across the ages, but are told with a hefty emotional punch. So strong is this book it’s difficult to see that it was Strout’s first novel, published in 2000 to be followed only eight years later by her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge. Strout is adept at peeling away the layers of character and events to show the raw emotion, shame, guilt and pain beneath.
When Isabelle Goodrow arrived in Shirley Falls with her baby daughter, she took a job at the local mill. Now, in a time that feels like 1970s America, Amy is sixteen and has a summer job in the same office as her mother. They sit and fume at each other, barely talking, brushing past each other without a word. Amy, who has fallen in love with her maths teacher, believes her upright, unemotional mother, has no idea of what she is feeling right now. Isabelle despairs of her daughter’s behaviour. Told in absorbing detail, switching between the two viewpoints, the trauma of the two women is revealed. Shirley Falls is an evocative setting, an industrial town with a river flowing through it. As the temperature rises, the river begins to stink adding to the stresses not just on the Goodrows but on the small community in which they exist. Strout excels at portraying the circle of characters which make the world of a novel so believable – Amy’s friend Stacy, Fat Bev and Dottie Brown at the mill, Isabelle’s boss Avery Clark.
Isabelle finds it difficult to fit in, has always felt like an outsider. As she judges others, she assumes others judge her. This is more about her own experience and inadequacies than about anyone else. As the summer days plod on and Amy’s affair unravels, we see hints of the truth of Isabelle’s past that go some of the way to explaining why she is as she is.
Difficult to put down, I enjoyed Amy & Isabelle very much. Both women are so real, their situations are real, you want to slap them both and hug them both. Strout writes in an extraordinarily perceptive manner about ordinary people in ordinary places, so real you feel you are in the room too.
BUY THE BOOK
Read my reviews of My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, also by Elizabeth Strout
If you like this, try:-
‘If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go’ by Judy Chicurel
‘The Museum of You’ by Carys Bray
‘When All is Said’ by Anne Griffin
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
AMY & ISABELLE by @LizStrout #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5id via @SandraDanby