WellRead November Selection: Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

A new Elizabeth Strout - how could we not choose it as our November selection?! Auspiciously, this is the first time we've selected a book by a previously featured author (if you've been with us long enough, you'll remember Olive, Again from November 2019). We certainly won't make a habit of it (WellRead is about discovery after all), but this book was such a joy to read and we think that joy ought to be shared.

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.

Oh William! is told by Lucy Barton who some readers will remember from Strout's collection Anything is Possible and the novel My Name is Lucy Barton. Don't let this detail put you off if this is your first time reading Strout - the books operate as a collection rather than a series, so you can begin with any one of them. In Oh William!, Lucy is a successful writer grieving the recent death of her second husband. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband - and longtime, on-again-off-again friend. The novel, which addresses the reader as an intimate confidante, is a luminous and profound mediation on marriage, memory, family secrets, the unknowability of ourselves and those closest to us, and the persistence of love.
 
A review in The Washington Post said that "so much intimate, fragile, desperate humanness infuses these pages, it’s breathtaking. Almost every declaration carries the force of revelation." We couldn't agree more, it's majestic!

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