WellRead’s November 2021 selection was Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout. The thing we love about Strout's fiction, the thing that makes her one of Ann Patchett's favourite writers and has her compared to the likes of Hemingway (some would say she betters him), is her capacity to illuminate complex truths about humanness so effortlessly. Hilary Mantel sees this as Strout's “perfect attunement to the human condition", which only seems to grow stronger and is fully-flexed in this, her ninth book.
Use these discussion questions to engage with the book further, whether in a book club with friends, or just on your own as you digest the story.
Reading questions for Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout:
Lucy often has revelations about herself. "I was self-absorbed," she realises. Do you think Lucy is as generous to her own character as she is to others?
Without asking too loaded a question, do you think Lucy does William's emotional labour (she goes to Lois for him, she has to tell their daughters what happened in Maine because he "doesn't feel like it")?
William believes that, generally speaking, people don't choose things, they just do. Reread pages 154 and 155 and consider how people make choices.
What did you make of the narrator’s conversational prose and all of its stops and starts and colloquialisms?
“This is the way of life,” Lucy says: “the many things we do not know until it is too late.” What did you make of this sentiment?
- "I am not invisible no matter how deeply I feel that I am." What did these words mean to you? How do they relate to Lucy's trauma?
A review by Pankaj Mishra observed that "for all the depths of anger and despair they uncover, and the bitterness they attest to, Strout’s works insist on the superabundance of life, the unrealised bliss always immanent in it." Do you share this sentiment? What does Strout's writing evoke in you?
Please note, these questions were written and distributed in November, 2021.