Before writing, Elizabeth Strout had a brief career in the law. She didn’t tell people about her ambition to become an author ‘Because they look at you with such looks of pity. I just couldn’t stand that.’
Pity would have been misplaced since Strout has subsequently become a habitué of the best-seller lists: her third novel alone, Olive Kitteridge, has sold way more than one million copies, grossed over $25 million and was made into an Emmy-winning television mini-series. Strout ascribes her authorial career to the fact that she was ‘a very bad lawyer’ (she only practiced for six months) and that ‘my ears are always open… And people will tell you things. Boy, they really will.’ This is what gives the relationships in her books the tang of lived experience.
No-one writes interior life as Strout does. This is meticulous observed writing, full of probing psychological insight. Lucy Barton is one of literature’s immortal characters – brittle, damaged, unravelling, vulnerable and most of all, ordinary, like us all.— The 2022 judges on Oh William!
‘I have been (I believe) accused of false modesty, and yet it is not false, and it is not modesty. It is simply that when I write, the me that people see, the person people think I am, just disappears and I become the text itself. And when I emerge, my sense of that original me goes back to being Nobody. This is hard for people to grasp.’
Read Elizabeth Strout in conversation with fellow Booker-nominated author Elena Ferrante (published in The Guardian, March 2022)