There are some books you read and as soon as you finish them, you want to go back to the beginning. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout made me feel like that. Strout’s writing style is at once beautiful and expressive, economical and un-wordy. She tells you enough detail to create the picture, not one word too many.
The structure is not a linear narrative, instead Strout tells the story of Olive in a series of inter-connected stories set in the small town of Crosby, Maine, where Olive lives with husband Henry. Some stories are told from Olive’s viewpoint, others by by neighbours and people whose path crosses hers; her dry irascible tone made me smile often, but also frown. Olive can be caustic, she tells it as it is. She does not suffer fools and believes she is always correct, though recently her vision of herself has been challenged. Living in one place for such a long time means she has left a trail through generations of friends, neighbours, shop owners, passers-by and the schoolchildren she once taught. Strout has created a realistic character who is imperfect of whom you warm to because of her faults and because she is as thoughtful and kind as she is prickly.
When the novel starts, Olive is already retired. This is the story of how she deals with ageing and the realisation that her life will have to adapt, her expectations tempered. Actually, Olive doesn’t deal with any of this well whether it is nosy acquaintances or nosy children, of the latter she says, ‘the child out to have her mouth washed out with soap.’ Unaware of the effect she has on others, particularly Henry and their son, Christopher, Olive ploughs on regardless. She seems angry all the time and I was curious about the source of this anger.
If you like novels with a clear straightline story, then this may not be for you. Strout compiles her novels with a patchwork of stories, Olive is the thread that holds everything together. You have to trust the author to tell you the story her way.
A 5* book for me.
Strout was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for Olive Kitteridge and Frances McDormand played Olive in the HBO television series of Olive Kitteridge.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
OLIVE KITTERIDGE by @LizStrout #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3YZ via @SandraDanby