Lucy Barton is a wonderful discovery, Elizabeth Strout even a greater one.
By writing Lucy’s character Strout wrote and made a whole world, a world in its complexity and its entirety. Lucy is an unforgettable character, so unique, so different, so lifelike, so herself.
She is different than other people around her, she is careful, timid, she always questions herself and everything else, she is nervous, insecure, fearful. She grew up in a difficult environment that was not a part of the general world. A strange, cruel mother, a deeply disturbed father, siblings that shared that life and suffered from the consequences as well.
Lucy has to constantly keep reentering the world of others, the normal world she was not a part of as a child. Going away from home and getting an education, she entered the world that was unknown to her, a world she didn’t understand and she made it, she got away from her childhood, became a successful author, but still didn’t manage to free herself completely.
Lucy shows us how every individual sees the world in their own way, each person sees the world differently, every vision of the world is isolated and different than the other.
In Oh William! we find Lucy in her 60s, after her divorce from William, after her second husband’s death and William’s two wives later. Lucy is again the narrator and there are different timelines she speaks/thinks about. Once again the time past, present and the logic of their merging come together perfectly.
Lucy in Oh William! is an older, more experienced woman than the Lucy in My Name Is Lucy Barton. She is more secure and has firmer opinions, but still longs for the love of a mother she never received. As time goes by she finally understands some things about herself and others. She is an adult, but as an adult she comprehends certain things as a child in childhood would. Like she encounters it for the first time.
Lucy in Oh William! describes how lost and confused she once was (in My Name Is Lucy Barton e.g.), how ill fitted and unsatisfied with her husband William back then she was. With that we can be sure that Lucy is no longer the same person, she had changed, evolved, hardened, but at the same time she still has the same mild disposition. She is well meaning, helpful and always a listener, a person others talk to.
What connects Lucy and William (and their parents) in this novel is, suddenly, unexpectedly, trauma.
Lucy has trauma from her childhood home, her father’s PTSD from WWII, William from his seemingly unproblematic mother who left a child to wed his father who fought on the other side in WWII.
Common troubles always connect people. We are always mythologies and mysteries to ourselves and to others.
Strout’s style is deeply psychological, delicate, slow and very subtle. I found My Name Is Lucy Barton brilliant, Oh William quite similar, but a little less so. Maybe a little less emotional and less insightful. A wonderful novel nonetheless.
I am very much looking forward to Lucy’s next experiences in Lucy by the Sea.