Literary Fiction

Anything Is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

6 October 2018
Anything is Possible Book Cover Anything is Possible
Elizabeth Strout
Random House

Here are two sisters: One trades self-respect for a wealthy husband while the other finds in the pages of a book a kindred spirit who changes her life. The janitor at the local school has his faith tested in an encounter with an isolated man he has come to help; a grown daughter longs for mother love even as she comes to accept her mother's happiness in a foreign country; and the adult Lucy Barton (the heroine of the author's 2016 novel My name is Lucy Barton) returns to visit her siblings after seventeen years of absence.


Elizabeth Strout has written a remarkable book that communicates 9 different, but intertwined stories. There are various threads running between each story and the dialogue is superbly written to create a telling glimpse into the characters’ lives. Anything is Possible presents a wonderful range and balance between character variety, background and intrigue.

Beautifully depicted are the normal everyday tales we hear from husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, and between siblings, neighbours, friends and strangers. How the actions of one can affect the lives of others. Do we grasp opportunities in life or let them slide by and forever dream – if only? In this human mixture of opportunities, personalities and family, we are treated to an excellent story of families and society, how when that mix is unmasked, what steps we will take to achieve our dreams. Elizabeth Strout vividly portrays an array of family situations, some fractured, some mislaid, some misunderstood and some supportive. Strout draws the best and worst of people, the demons people struggle with, the choices made in life, and the difficult directions we are condemned to ruminate on, over and over.

The attitude of this book is to provide diverse characterisation that is never predictable. It is layered and conflicting and shows man’s capacity for forgiveness and spite. There is a general theme of family separation, and sometimes that’s for the best and other times it has a profound effect on the lives of children and spouses.

I felt drawn to the lives of Pete and Lucy Barton for different reasons. They are both troubled, coming from an extremely poor upbringing, but Lucy has broken free of her childhood environment and achieved success, while Pete has accepted to live the frugal life he has always known. Lucy is a wonderfully drawn character and the prequel My Name is Lucy Barton I have not read but she is so vulnerable that you can’t help root for her and protect her from the echoes of her past. Pete, I was expecting the worst in the beginning, but we discover that he is an innocent, sensitive and withdrawn person. Maybe a tad slow but someone who has lost that zest for life.

A book I would highly recommend for its wonderful prose and character developments, and how the dialogue brings the story to life. Many thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Books UK, for an ARC version in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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