Elizabeth Strout ‘Oh William’

As we drove along the road—again almost no other cars were in sight—William said, “I’m sorry for all that crap I did in our marriage, Lucy.” He kept looking straight ahead at the road, he seemed relaxed as he drove, his hands were at the bottom of the steering wheel. I said, it’s okay, William, I’m sorry for how weird I got.” And he nodded slightly and kept on driving. We have had this conversation—almost exactly that—for a number of years since we separated, not frequently, but every so often it pops up: a mutual apology. This may sound strange, but it is not strange to William and to me. It is part of the fabric of who we are. It seemed completely right that we should say this now.

So, off to England in August, don’t do this every year – the expensive month. Picked up Oh William in the first days, and this is my first experience of Elizabeth Strout. I’ve added the opening quote which I think illustrates her deceptively simple writing, and as in this example hitting the mature relationship bang on as seen by Lucy in this conversation with her ex husband William.

This book investigates a moment in Lucy’s life, her childhood through the parallels with her mother in law’s equally poor and unloved life, leading to her abandoning her husband and especially her young daughter, William’s previously unknown half sister, this whilst ostensibly helping William to come to terms with this discovery.

This discovery of her mother in law’s abandoning her daughter actually seems to bring Lucy to a greater compassion and understanding for this overwhelming lady that when she was alive seemed so, unlike Lucy, assimilated to the moneyed class.

An easy read for what is an introverted style of writing, makes me think a little of Annie Ernaux, perhaps more subtle.

First Published in English as “Oh William” in 2021, by Random House


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