Strout’s prose, unshowy, sparing of metaphor but vivid with both necessary and contingent detail, matches her democracy of subject and theme, and seems agile enough to describe any human situation. In Oh William! the narrator’s conversational prose—the colloquialisms, the searching for the correct expression, the 'I guess' and 'I mean'—seems exactly equivalent, tonally, to the arrhythmic lives she is describing, their disturbances, stops and starts, and dreamlike groping. Strout is not so absorbed by the psychic clamor around her to neglect the task of finding the best-fitting structure for her intuitions ... she has managed to achieve, through the most economical means, the amplitude and populousness of the novel cycle, as well as the lancing revelations of the laconic tale. Everything in them seems to fall into place and connect naturally, while the literary artifice through which this naturalness is achieved remains hidden from the reader. There is a sense, too, in Strout’s recent books of her art reaching an unexpected conclusion, hinting at a reality beyond the known world ... 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 unrealized bliss always immanent in it.
... a novel-cum-fictional memoir, a form that beautifully showcases this character's tremendous heart and limpid voice ... Lucy's determination to tell her personal story honestly and without embellishment evokes Hemingway, but also highlights fiction's special access to emotional truths ... A memoir, fictional or otherwise, is only as interesting as its central character, and Lucy Barton could easily hold our attention through many more books. What Strout is trying to get at here — how the past is never truly past, the lasting effects of trauma, and the importance of trying to understand other people despite their essential mystery and unknowability — is neither as straightforward nor as simple as at first appears. Oh William! explores William and Lucy's relationship, past and present, with impressive nuance and subtlety ... You needn't have read Strout's previous books about Lucy Barton to appreciate this one — though, chances are, you'll want to ... Being privy to the innermost thoughts of Lucy Barton — and, more to the point, deep inside a book by Strout — makes readers feel safe. We know we're in good hands.
... yet another stunning achievement ... In spare, no-nonsense, conversational language, Lucy addresses the reader as an intimate confidante ... all her characters are complicated, neither good nor bad but beautifully explored and so real in their humanness ... Strout’s simple declarative sentences contain continents. Who is better at conveying loneliness, the inability to communicate, to say the deep important things? Who better to illustrate the legacies of imperfect upbringings, of inadequate parents? When William explains that what attracted him to Lucy was her sense of joy, the reader can only agree. This brilliant, compelling, tender novel is—quite simply—a joy.
One proof of Elizabeth Strout’s greatness is the sleight of hand with which she injects sneaky subterranean power into seemingly transparent prose. Strout works in the realm of everyday speech, conjuring repetitions, gaps and awkwardness with plain language and forthright diction, yet at the same time unleashing a tidal urgency that seems to come out of nowhere even as it operates in plain sight ... affecting ... a brief, swirling account of present-day events that rouse memories of past events and prompt a reckoning ... Marriage is Strout’s subject in Oh William! and she writes about it with brilliance ... The gap between Lucy’s inner and outer landscapes forms the crux of Oh William! As a reader, I experienced this gap uneasily at times, in a disconnect between Lucy’s literary reputation and her occasionally fumbling narrative turns...But the tension between Lucy’s inner voice and her worldly identity turns out to be exactly what Strout wants the reader to track, and what Lucy herself must grapple with in the course of the novel. Oh William! is a testament to the way that making a family — in Lucy’s case through marriage and motherhood — creates a fresh structure of myth and meaning atop the primal one. Strout renders this truth about Lucy’s marriage to William as she did its deficits: through sparkling, incisive details.
Strout doesn’t dress language up in a tuxedo when a wool sweater will suffice. Other novelists must berate themselves when they see what Strout pulls off without any tacky pyrotechnics. Straightforward goes down so easy and feels so refreshing ... All of which makes reading Oh William! like coming home to a sensibility that is so smartly deployed it might go unnoticed ... Strout does very little here that is new, and that is a notion to celebrate ... Which isn’t to say Strout doesn’t have a cosmic point of view. Her novels are universal, though they aren’t big or broad or grasping, like the surfeit of literary fiction that needs to announce its own importance via page count or character sprawl. Read Oh William! for its suggestions about how the economics of our childhood never leave us ... Oh! And read it for the copious exclamation points. They’re the only ones in modern fiction I can stand.
... investigates those timely themes — loneliness, grief — in such a rich, mesmerizing narrative, I devoured it greedily ... Lucy and William have two grown daughters, whose portraits are vibrantly drawn. Somewhat less visible is William’s daughter with his current wife, Estelle. But for all their dimension and drama (a miscarriage, sulks, confrontations) these daughters — and even Lucy’s expired husband — seem to function more as elements of a palpable backdrop against which Lucy and William may seek and repel each other, like magnets with reversing currents ... So much intimate, fragile, desperate humanness infuses these pages, it’s breathtaking. Almost every declaration carries the force of revelation.
It’s easy to be snooty about fiction as self-help — and probably entirely justified in most cases — but Strout is not only mercilessly funny on the page, she’s also unerringly precise about the long-term effects of loneliness, parental neglect and betrayal. She understands how trauma — stemming, in Lucy’s case, from her dirt-poor childhood and Second World War-scarred father — never really leaves you, resurfacing in an inability to sleep or a sudden need to eat or keep warm. And she gets how the body metabolises stress ... Strout’s great skill is showing how Lucy’s and William’s emotional needs have clashed over the years ... The more I think about the three Lucy books, the more I admire Strout’s achievement ... an intensely truthful book not only about how we experience trauma but the ways we keep on reframing our perceptions of it. The final scene between William and Lucy has been carouselling in my mind for days now. It’s one of those deliciously ambiguous Stroutian moments that feels devastating and vital, bleak and tender. Cathartic? Yes. Comforting? No.
Elizabeth’s Strout’s Lucy Barton novels, of which Oh William! is the latest, have become essential to the contemporary canon by taking a wider view on the interpersonal responsibilities...shared among a society bound by its traumas ... This story...is well told, though one can’t shake the sense that its details are slightly beside the point. When trauma is universal, its specifics are interchangeable ... [Lucy's] thoughts are pulled by two conflicting impulses: the self-absorption of addressing one’s own sorrows and the selflessness of acknowledging those of others ... This is a struggle beset by confusion...but it’s a lucid, disarming, wholly approachable kind of confusion, one that bespeaks humility rather than despair.
The effect is a confiding intimacy, as if the reader were catching up with an old friend in a particularly confessional mood. At the same time it invites the reader to speculate on what isn’t being told and what the speaker doesn’t even realise she is telling you. The wandering structure belies a tight underlying web of recurring motifs: phone calls, unappreciated gifts, road trips ... In this way, Strout sneaks up on profundity ... The miraculous quality of Strout’s fiction is the way she opens up depths with the simplest of touches, and this novel ends with the assurance that the source of love lies less in understanding than in recognition – although it may take a lifetime to learn the difference.
While it's always a pleasure to read Strout's restrained but lovely prose and skillful character sketches, Oh William! lacks the urgency and affecting, understated power of the original novel. Still, now that it's here, this is a book worth reading ... Strout...continues to add depth and dimension to her recurring characters by viewing them through different lenses ... Upon learning that Lucy and William take a road trip to Maine to confront the revelations, you may be tempted to cringe, but in Strout's hands the journey never feels trite. Instead, she invests us deeply in Lucy's epiphany: Even though we are fueled by presumptions and believe what we want to believe, the truth is always within our sight.
They say good things come in threes and although it feels as though this latest novel about Lucy Barton marks the completion of a trilogy, can I put in an early request? For a tetralogy, a pentalogy or whatever comes after that? ... Elizabeth Strout seems to be generating a...holistic – and entirely original – form of fiction writing ... Strout is constantly weaving new strands alongside the main narrative, skidding backwards and forwards in time, but also – and satisfyingly – sideways to siblings, to neighbours, to offspring ... The novel’s cunning complexity reveals itself. Strout, as ever, does not rely on plot, instead stuttering between randomly remembered moments, whether a panicky evasion or an incomplete conversation, which build the picture of a shared life and its lonely aftermath. Though to label them random undersells the quiet virtuosity: what we have here are exquisitely choreographed flashes of lightning that illuminate the confusion and contradictions and misjudgements of any marriage. And without the usual kind of narrative dilemma waiting to be satisfied, the intense pleasure of Strout’s writing becomes the simple joy of learning more while – always – understanding less.
The novel is short and sparingly written, but the experiences of several lifetimes are revealed in a series of sometimes shocking revelations ... The juggling act Strout performs with grammar animates the narrative in surprising ways ... Oh William! is not a book that you read so much as you experience it. Lucy’s progress through her own life is so viscerally described that it feels like a physical journey ... The miracle here...is the capacity of love to exist within damaged lives ... Breathtakingly beautiful ... [Strout's novels] are remarkable in the clarity of the insights they pull from the confusion of human existence. Strout has found a singular way of telling the truth about life as it is lived. To journey with her is a profoundly moving experience.
Strout is such a brilliant writer that you don’t have to have read My Name is Lucy Barton or to enjoy Oh William! and she fills in the plot so you don’t feel lost ...But what sets Strout apart is the way she describes people’s innermost thoughts and the nuances of their feelings. She is an intimate writer with a particular skill for writing about the thoughts that people often brush away or bury, and the result is that you often forget you are reading fiction. You feel like Lucy’s confidante.
Elizabeth Strout has a novelist’s most desirable quality: a distinct voice. Hers is quiet, conversational, intimate. It allows her to move easily between now and then ... This is Strout’s third Lucy Barton novel, and I would guess, and hope, there will be more to come ... Strout unravels the mysteries of relationships deftly. Perhaps these mysteries are never – can never – be fully resolved; but they can be lived with and that is a step towards understanding and acceptance ... This is a novel that searches for the truth of these things. It is written with the lightest of hands as we follow Lucy’s flickering thoughts ... This is a delightful novel. It rattles along so easily and agreeably in Lucy’s voice that it is only gradually that you realise how intelligently it examines the lives of its characters. The easy reading it offers is evidence of Strout’s technical mastery.
The novel’s lack of chapter breaks reinforces its interior nature and invites readers to immerse themselves in Lucy’s ruminations ... Strout is a master of quiet, reflective stories that are driven more by their characters than by events. Her fans will find plenty to love as Lucy and William set out to explore his family history. At each step, Lucy contemplates her relationships to the people around her. Though she often feels invisible, her ties to William, their daughters and the strangers they encounter remind her that she has a place in the world.
The most stunning aspect of Elizabeth Strout’s beautiful and insightful new novel, Oh William!, is the narrative voice, which violates most of the basic tenets of high school English classes ... the writing is powerful in its understated way ... Strout hits only a few discordant notes. While the choppy style usually works, there’s too much of the overly cute refrain 'So there was that.' And some of the descriptions of rural Maine are a touch patronizing ... Lucy may think that 'we do not know anybody.' But Strout, once again, demonstrates that she certainly knows human nature.
... stunning ... even more moving than the original book ... Strout has produced a shimmering meditation on trauma, memory and marriage – and the perverse ways we distract ourselves from painful experiences.
The halting voice, the habit of interrupting and repeating herself, of being at a loss for words — these are peculiar qualities for someone whose celebrity was built on her presumed facility with words. Nevertheless, if you loved Lucy Barton, you’re sure to love this one. If you didn’t, not so much.
For the most part, it’s a welcome return to form (if you liked 2016’s somewhat claustrophobic My Name Is Lucy Barton and are able to gloss over Strout’s habit of rehashing some of the old plotlines in this one, that is) ... On the enjoyable end of the spectrum, the scenes in which the two bicker resemble — if I might reference another beloved couple from Strout’s repertoire — Olive and Henry Kitteridge-style banter ... a master class on the perils of aging ... In all eight of her books, Strout excels at excavating the most vulnerable aspects of the human condition, no matter how disorienting or painful, and she continues to do so here. Because of its brutal honesty, Oh William! lands like a 'dull disc of dread in [the] chest' at times. But it also serves as a gentle reminder to be emotionally generous with our loved ones and as physically present as possible each and every day of our lives.
Strout creates characters so developed, so human and flawed, that readers might feel frustrated with them, as one would with a friend or family member ... A fine examination of relationships that asks how well one can know someone, even after years together, but it’s sometimes hard to connect to the narrative. William is rather awful, which might leave readers wondering why so many women’s lives revolve around such men. Perhaps that is Strout’s point.
Oh William! is, at once, breezy and consequential, in the way that Strout can mention something in passing and also leave a mark ... Lucy narrates in this confiding, conversational style, so it feels like she’s talking directly to each reader...Strout makes it hard to put the book down.
Every time I read a novel by Elizabeth Strout, I wonder why I have not read her whole backlist. I have learned to expect great things from her, and her novel Oh William! is no different ... Exquisite ... Oh William! is a quiet, character-driven novel. Strout writes with such an understated elegance, and Lucy’s melancholy voice tugs at your heartstrings during even the most seemingly innocuous moments ... What continues to astound me most about this novel, however, is Strout’s depiction of Lucy’s perspective ... Oh William! is a story about grief. It is also about legacy. But mostly it is about reckoning with the past and reckoning with the person you have become ... The title of the novel comes across with multiple resonances throughout the text, and Strout’s compassionate voice tells us gently how flawed human beings are. Though there is a lot of sadness in this novel, it never loses hope. And that is Strout’s greatest gift.
Is there any writer out there comparable to Elizabeth Strout? ... A deceptively plain, un-flashy writer, Strout is very good at parsing the contradictory elements that make up our relationship with ourselves and the lives we lead, and the extent to which these elements exist in a state of flux. Such a pleasure to read. And so very wise.
Strout’s habitual themes of loneliness and the impossibility of ever truly knowing another person are ubiquitous in this deeply sad tale, which takes its title from Lucy’s head-shaking acknowledgment that her ex will never change, cannot change the remoteness at the core of his personality. Another skillful, pensive exploration of Strout’s fundamental credo: 'We are all mysteries.'
... the most contingent of Strout’s novels, the most emphatically sequel-shaped ... Few American writers are willing to place these questions in the centre of what they do, and so nakedly: it is further evidence of Strout’s under-celebrated nerve. Like all of her fiction, Oh William! is a gentle story of ungentle things: the horrors of ageing, the echoes of family violence, the tenacity of loneliness, the enduring cost of poverty. Rendered with Elizabeth Strout’s characteristic dignity – her insistent quiet – Oh William! evokes the spare beauty of an Andrew Wyeth painting. It is a portrait of unvoiced longing and fading light.
Strout’s best novels are rich with deceptively slight little anecdotes which, to borrow an oddly appropriate boxing phrase, float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. Oh William! is no different, delivering its emotional gut-punches in the form of brief pop-up recollections and drive-thru memories; life as a series of pangs and blows ... Strout’s prose is notably unshowy, which might be why admiring fellow writers ask ‘How does she do it?’ How do her economical everyday sentences conjure scenes so familiar and true it feels like she’s stolen them from inside our heads? ... Strout is immensely insightful about the persistent impact of childhood and how even a past full of sadness and fear and loss can be hard missed. We move through her stories as we drift through our own lives, via moods and musings swerved by random gusts of music, banal recollections, a rush of de ja vu, a casual comment.
Reading it felt so much like catching up with a dear friend over a long lunch – a much- needed and sorely missed feeling in this past year of restrictions ... As usual, Strout has delivered another powerful story in Oh William! – one that forces the reader to consider the mysteries that have shaped their own lives and relationships. There isn’t a particular plot, and you don’t have to have read the previous Lucy Barton novels to enjoy it. However, be warned, it will leave you wanting to read more about Lucy, and you’ll find yourself racing back to your local Readings shop to track down those earlier two books!
... another extraordinary insight into being human ... Strout’s ability to take us inside a character’s personal journey, to walk with them, is on every page, in everyday banalities—cleaning teeth, filling a car with petrol—and in their memories ... The complexity of women and men is infinite and under Strout’s observant eye, the motives and actions of her characters resonate. Her handling of private trauma is as deft as ever.
What Strout is doing, in her customary crisp prose, is getting the reader — addressed throughout as ‘you’ — to reassess every single relationship they’ve ever had: with their partner, their parents, their children and themselves, while they can still do something about it ... Reading Strout feels like it might get you closer to knowing at least some of those things; or failing that, remind you that not knowing can also be OK. ‘We are all mysteries, is what I mean,’ concludes Lucy, as she battles to fathom William. ‘This may be the only thing in the world I know to be true.’
What sets Strout’s work apart is her characterisation ... crafted such that a reader need not have read its predecessors to understand and enjoy it. Taken as an ensemble, the triptych offers a fuller portrait of Lucy Barton ... With its spotlight on her first marriage, Oh William! allows us to put another piece in the jigsaw with a satisfying click.
... [an] illuminating, character-driven saga ... The strength of Lucy’s voice carries the reader, and Strout’s characters teem with angst and emotion, all of which Strout handles with a mastery of restraint and often in spare, true sentences ... It’s not for nothing that Strout has been compared to Hemingway. In some ways, she betters him.