Oh William! – Elizabeth Strout

READ FOR BOOKERTHON

Oh, William! is a story about Lucy Barton’s relationships, especially her time with her ex-husband William. While they are no longer together as a couple they still see each other regularly and often reflect on their shared experiences. 

The triumph of this book is the very real way Elizabeth Strout is able to convey the immense comfort and intimacy that comes from having loved someone for such a long time, while so accurately portraying the small irritations and ‘ugh’ moments that emerge within a relationship too. 

Amongst some very heavy-hitting books on the shortlist this year, it was nice to read a novel that felt quite nuanced and subtle by comparison. – Suzy

There was something about her that seemed deeply—almost fundamentally—comfortable inside herself, the way I think a person is when they have been loved by their parents.

Oh William! is the third book in the Lucy Barton series, but holds its own as a stand alone read, too. In the first book, My Name is Lucy Barton, Strout examines Lucy’s childhood and relationship with her mother. I have not read the second book but this, the third, is an analysis of her first husband William, but set later in life when both Lucy and William are in their 60s/70s, partnerless and finding both comfort and frustration in each other.

Reading this amongst the other Booker shortlisters, which rely on fables and real events for impact, helped highlight Oh William!’s good old-fashioned story telling techniques and character study mastery. Lucy constantly analyses herself and those around her, though the support characters fill in the gaps with their opinions and commentaries when Lucy fails to. There is a nice plot but the characters are the book’s standout feature.

I really do enjoy character studies and Strout certainly has done an amazing job with Lucy Barton and her husband. They seem like real people to me, complex, clever, flawed and interesting. I know there is another Lucy Barton book on the horizon and I’m already looking forward to that. – Rachel

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Published 2021
Random House
240 pages

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