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Book review: Oh, William by Elisabeth Strout

Once again, Lucy Barton’s voice is crystal clear in the Booker shortlisted Oh, William.

This time, Lucy is living her own life after her divorce from William, and the death of her second husband.

But that’s not quite right. Lucy is continuing to live in a kind of co-dependent relationship with William, especially after he finds himself on his own.

This time, it is not Lucy who is in need of love and support, but William, as he struggles to find his feet.

Lucy is patient and good humoured in coming to the aid of her former husband, despite his behaviour that led to their separation.

She accompanies him on a trip to find William’s half-sister after she find that his background as her mother-in-law might have liked her to think. While William does not get the opportunity to meet his half-sister, Lucy does, and the scene is one of bitter truth and disappointment.

While in My Name is Lucy Barton, it feels like Lucy needs protection, in Oh, William, it is Lucy who is protecting her ex-husband. In many ways, it reflects the fluctuations in a relationship where one partner might be in more need of care than another at any one time.

As Lucy says, William is the only person who has ever felt like home to her.

Somehow, Strout brings gentle humour to the situation and particularly to the interactions between Lucy and William. I love the sense of listening in to their conversations, and understanding the power fluctuations between them.

The relationship seems very real, perhaps due to Strout’s skill in painting characters and believable situations. The whole time, I find myself holding my breath for Lucy, wanting her to be happy.

I really enjoy reading the Lucy Barton books and I can’t wait to get my hands on Lucy by the Sea.


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