‘I have to write this almost like a novel, but it is true – as true as I can make it.’ So says our narrator, Lucy, at the start of Elizabeth Strout’s capacious new book. The narrator’s bold yet hesitant voice is one we have heard before, since this same Lucy was the titular heroine of Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, published five years ago. In that novel, her marriage to William Gerhardt was stable: he brought their two daughters, Chrissy and Becka, to visit her in hospital in New York, where Lucy’s inscrutable mother kept vigil as she recovered from a mysterious infection, and memories of her loveless, violent childhood shadowed their prickly companionship.
Oh William! is set twenty years after Lucy’s account of her hospitalisation and tentative reconciliation with the mother she now never sees. We learn that William had affairs and that Lucy left him and their daughters. She subsequently married a cellist, David, who died a year ago (‘Oh I