I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.

Lucy Barton is a writer, but her ex-husband, William, remains a hard man to read. William, she confesses, has always been a mystery to me. Another mystery is why the two have remained connected after all these years. They just are.

So Lucy is both surprised and not surprised when William asks her to join him on a trip to investigate a recently uncovered family secret—one of those secrets that rearrange everything we think we know about the people closest to us. What happens next is nothing less than another example of what Hilary Mantel has called Elizabeth Strout’s “perfect attunement to the human condition.” There are fears and insecurities, simple joys and acts of tenderness, and revelations about affairs and other spouses, parents and their children. On every page of this exquisite novel we learn more about the quiet forces that hold us together—even after we’ve grown apart.

At the heart of this story is the indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who offers a profound, lasting reflection on the very nature of existence. “This is the way of life,” Lucy says: “the many things we do not know until it is too late.”


There is something so moving about the characters in Oh William. We feel an almost instant connection to Lucy and to William, and as Lucy tells the story of her relationship with her first husband, a part of us knows that they will always remain connected in some way. Even though they obviously frustrate each other, even criticize each other.

Lucy narrates the story like someone who is deep in thought as she traverses her life with William. The memories seem to appear out of nowhere, almost as if she has been tangentially following a journey of her life at odd moments along the way. We see glimpses of her childhood and the horrific life with her parents; her first years with William; her life afterwards and with her second husband; and then how she and William come together again as friends and companions.

Sometimes I found William irritating, and behaving like “a dickwad,” as his daughters describe him. He feels very human and flawed and appealing in many ways, too.

A book that will linger in my mind indefinitely as a five star read.



  1. Susan

    I thought Lucy and William were quite close at the end … they seemed to both acknowledge their flaws of the early years … they were closer than many marriages! I wonder what Strout will write next. hmm

    Liked by 1 person

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