Oh William!

Elizabeth Strout

Oh William!
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Oh William!

Elizabeth Strout

Lucy Barton is a successful writer living in New York, navigating the second half of her life as a recent widow and parent to two adult daughters. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband - and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidante. Recalling their college years, the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a decades-long partnership.

Oh William! is a luminous novel about the myriad mysteries that make up a marriage, about discovering family secrets, late in life, that rearrange everything we think we know about those closest to us, and the way people continue to live and love, against all odds. At the heart of this story is the unforgettable, indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who once again offers a profound, lasting reflection on the mystery of existence. ‘This is the way of life,’ Lucy says. ‘The many things we do not know until it is too late.’

Review

For me, a new Elizabeth Strout novel is always cause for excitement – she is, after all, one of my favourite authors. Strout has written several novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, and Oh William! is her third novel to feature the extraordinary, indomitable character of Lucy Barton, following My Name Is Lucy Barton in 2016 and Anything Is Possible in 2017. Reading it felt so much like catching up with a dear friend over a long lunch – a much- needed and sorely missed feeling in this past year of restrictions.

This time we meet Lucy in later life. She is recently widowed, with a successful writing career behind her. She also has an ex-husband, William, who is the father of her two adult daughters. Having a strong bond and being on good terms with each other, William confides in Lucy that he is having ‘night terrors’, which seem to revolve around his late mother. After doing some research into his ancestry, William convinces Lucy to travel from New York to Maine with him to confront the secrets of his past. As the story unfolds, Lucy reflects on her own history, and in a conversational, back-and-forth, wandering manner, gradually divulges the events that have shaped her life. She muses over her relationships with her parents, her siblings, her two husbands, her children and her mother-in-law, concluding that we can never truly know anyone.

As usual, Strout has delivered another powerful story in Oh William! – one that forces the reader to consider the mysteries that have shaped their own lives and relationships. There isn’t a particular plot, and you don’t have to have read the previous Lucy Barton novels to enjoy it. However, be warned, it will leave you wanting to read more about Lucy, and you’ll find yourself racing back to your local Readings shop to track down those earlier two books!


Sharon Peterson is the manager of Readings St Kilda.

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