Book Review: Amy and Isabelle

Amy and Isabelle

Elizabeth Strout

Vintage

303 pages

Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with Elizabeth Strout, if only because you are aware that she wrote Olive Kitteridge.  Now, I have yet to read it, but I have heard many praises on its behalf, so when I came across Amy and Isabelle on the shelf at my library and noted that Strout was the author, I decided to go ahead and give it a try.

Amy and Isabelle was published in 1998 and it’s the story of a mother and daughter struggling to accept one another.  Amy is in high school and for the most part she’s a well behaved kid.  Isabelle and Amy live in a mill town, Shirley Falls , where Isabelle works at the mill as a secretary.  She is a single mother who claims to have been widowed when Amy was a small child, but immediately it becomes obvious that Isabelle is trying to hide her past.

Their fragile relationship falls to pieces when Isabelle discovers that Amy has been carrying on an affair with her math teacher, Mr Robertson.  Isabelle is disgusted, embarrassed and angry that her daughter would carry on a sexual relationship with her teacher.  Meanwhile, Amy believes that she is in love with Mr Robertson, and that the feeling is mutual.  She seems to ignore the growing discord between herself and her mother because she just doesn’t care. 

Amy’s naivete is believable for a teenager.  Her misconception that she and Mr Robertson are in love and that he is going to be there for her are obviously pipe dreams.  Amy just can’t accept reality.  Isabelle is very similar in this regard.  She is in love with her boss, Avery, and continually drums up fantasies about the two of them much as Amy does with Mr Robertson.  Yet, when her daughter gives into her sexual urges, Isabelle reacts above and beyond what I would expect of the average parent.  She can no longer look at Amy without full-blown animosity and contempt.  As the story continues on, Isabelle’s past begins to shed light on why she reacts in such a strong manner and eventually Isabelle is able to attempt to overcome her hatred towards Amy. 

I think Isabelle’s biggest problem is that by moving to Shirley Falls , she recreated her past by making herself a widow with a small child.  She had spent such time and energy on this façade, that she had to be in control of at all times, that to see Amy behave in such a reckless manner, she instantly becomes consumed with jealousy and rage.  Unfortunately, she let her emotions dictate her relationship with her daughter.  Eventually, Isabelle is able to become more and more comfortable with her co-workers and at that point she becomes more accepting of both Amy as well as of her past. 

I found Amy and Isabelle to be an interesting novel because of the tenseness between mother and daughter as well as in the way they were eventually able to begin to overcome the hurdles in their relationship.  I have wanted to read Olive Kitteridge for quite some time now—it just happened that Amy and Isabelle entered the picture first.  Now I am even more anxious to see what more Strout has to offer.

Other Reviews:

The Written World

The Sleepy Reader

I borrowed this book from my local library.

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7 Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading Olive Kitteridge so have been on the look out for her other books. It sounds as though I’d enjoy this one – thanks for letting me know about it!

  2. I read this one a few years ago and, though the story itself fascinated me, there was something about the style that never really grabbed me. Glad that you seem to have enjoyed it! Olive Kitteridge is still on my TBR.

  3. I read this with my book club shortly after it came out, so I don’t remember much other than that it was a very popular selection. Olive Kitteridge was one of my favorites last year and I have also added Abide With Me to my wish list.

  4. This one sounds like it has a lot of good themes to explore, it must have been a great book club read. I am always thrilled to find that authors who have a famous book also have others they have written in the past which are just as good.

  5. A bookseller at B&N recommended this to me when it first came out and I remember being pretty blown away by it. The fact that I had just had my daughter made it just that little bit more disturbing for me too. But I have gone on to read more of Strout’s work and think she’s pretty darn good.

  6. I just finished reading this book, and it engaged me more than “Olive Kitteridge” did. I think because of the mother/daughter relationship, which probably would hit home for most readers (who are female, anyway).

    If you liked reading this, you probably will like reading Olive, too. Now I want to find “Abide by Me” and read that, too.

  7. Great review–I’ve linked to it on my review.

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