BY ELIZABETH STROUT
‘Oh William!’ is the third novel in Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy Barton series and a favourite book club choice - also perfect for understanding the hidden complexities of later-life love and friendship.
Lucy Barton is a writer who is unexpectedly invited by her ex-husband William to join him on a trip from New York to investigate a recently uncovered family secret in rural Maine. Having shortly lost her own husband, Lucy reflects on her adoration for her departed partner, David and her relationship with William over the decades who she explains ‘has always been a mystery to me’. Another mystery is why the two have remained so connected after all these years.
Lucy agrees to help William and along the way we discover Lucy’s deeper connection with him stemming back from their first meeting at college, their consistent and independent work ethic and their love for their own children and family.
The novel moves back and forth in time to episodes in Lucy’s life with her ex-husband. For her and William, she considers their fears and insecurities as well as the simple joys and acts of tenderness - even after relationships fall apart. Lucy takes the reader back to her own very poor beginnings, ‘who came from nothing’ which dominates her story as well as her sense of feeling invisible in spite of being a recognised author. We also confide in her new vulnerability as a widow looking back at her choices in life, dealing with disappointments, her own experiences of love and trying to understand what holds a relationship together.
Lucy’s voice pulls us aside with her reflective conversational musings and we are absorbed by her wandering thoughts that makes this an addictive read. Lucy’s humble beginnings is a constant reference point revealing a little known American truth in which the struggle from poverty and moving closer to the ‘American Dream’ is still a reality that often comes with guilt and shame. Overall, the Den enjoyed Strout’s easy reading style and her pearls of wisdom about love and life.
‘Oh William’ was short listed for the Booker Prize 2022 and also in the recent Literary Laughs Favourite Reads for book clubs last year. If you are already ahead of the trilogy, consider Lucy Barton’s latest adventure ‘Lucy by the Sea’, recently released in hardback (October 2022).