With Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again STILL waiting for me on my TBR I was determined to read Elizabeth Strout this year and so when Georgia Taylor at Penguin asked me to participate in the blog tour for Elizabeth Strout’s latest book Oh William! I jumped at the chance and am thrilled to start off the tour by sharing my review today.
Oh William! is published by Penguin Viking and is available for purchase through the links here.
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 tender, complex, decades-long partnership.
Oh William! captures the joy and sorrow of watching children grow up and start families of their own; of discovering family secrets, late in life, that alter everything we think we know about those closest to us; and the way people 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.’
My Review of Oh William!
Lucy is writing about her ex-husband William.
Oh William! is utterly glorious and I loved every moment spent reading it. I’d had high expectations of Elizabeth Strout’s writing, but I had no idea her sparse, glowing prose would be so imbued with feeling and emotion. Elizabeth Strout conveys meaning so beautifully, just as much through what isn’t said as by what is, so that Lucy’s voice rings so clear and true. Lucy’s narrative style, her exclamations and her broken sentences sound so natural that they make everything she tells the reader about William completely understandable and relatable.
There isn’t a conventional plot in Oh William!, but rather a conversational narrative that is part character presentation, part memoir and part romance in its component parts that all somehow add up to a reading experience far outweighing the actual content so that this book is fantastic.
William is so clearly drawn that I felt I knew him as if he’d been part of my life. He’s flawed, selfish, generous and frequently frustrating. However, whilst this is ostensibly a narrative about William, in reality it is Lucy the reader comes to know so well. Through her asides, her glimpses into the past, her meetings with other characters and her ongoing relationship with William we are presented with a complex woman whom it is impossible not to admire and care about. Even the most minor character has resonance and importance in the text and is vivid and engaging, even when they are not especially likable or admirable.
Having said Elizabeth Strout makes her reader understand the characters in Oh William! so thoroughly, the real joy in reading the book is the underpinning universality of their lives. This makes reading Oh William! an almost cathartic experience. Through Lucy’s descriptions of William, Catherine et al we come to know ourselves just that little bit better, whilst simultaneously realising we can never really have that understanding of ourselves entirely completely, nor can we thoroughly know other people. Even with Lucy, we are never fully told the aspects of her early life alluded to in the story, for example, so that the mystery of life at the heart of this book still retains some of that very mystery.
Because Elizabeth Strout writes with such skill, it’s quite hard to review Oh William! I found it mesmerising, captivating and completely immersive. I know this is going to sound weird, but I enjoyed reading it so much it was almost painful – physical. I thought Oh William! was wonderful and cannot recommend it highly enough.
About Elizabeth Strout
Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge, as well as The Burgess Boys, a New York Times bestseller, Abide With Me and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize. She lives in New York City and Portland, Maine.
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