Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout ****


My Book Prize reading starts with “Oh William!” by Elizabeth Strout. She’s a very well-known author (though I must admit I confuse her novel “Olive Kitteridge” with the Kitt Kitteridge. I assume they are very much not alike).

Anyway, back to the book at hand. I know what you’re wondering. Why start with this book? Because this is the one the library sent to me first (and it arrived before the book that I purchased did!). It is as simple as that. I haven’t read any Strout before… and I didn’t really know much about the subject matter she writes.

This book is the third book in a trilogy, but it seems to me to stand on its own rather well. It is the story of Lucy Barton, our narrator, and a specific set of events that happen between her and her ex-husband, the titular William (who does rather seem like a horrible person to be married to… though Lucy has her own faults as well. Faults which Willam does take advantage of).

I expect that a novel nominated for a fancy literary prize will try to do something different. That might include having an entirely experimental structure, playing tricks with the narrative, or having a very strong and well-written voice. To me, this novel is all about Lucy’s voice, and I have to say it is pretty stunning how well Strout realizes it in such a short book (which makes me think reading the other two will only deepen my admiration for her craft).

Here’s a quote from the book that I think is a good example of what I’m talking about:

I have always thought that if there was a big corkboard and on that board was a pin for every person who ever lived, there would be no pin for me.

I feel invisible, is what I mean. But I mean it in the deepest way. It is very hard to explain. And I cannot explain it

“Oh William!” by Elizabeth Strout

That really sums up how Lucy thinks and acts in the novel, but you shouldn’t think that she’s some weak or meek character. She holds her own with William, who you can almost feel trying to wrest the narrative from her.

This is a book I would never have picked up on my own, but one I am certainly glad to have read. The process works!

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