Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout is a return to the town of Crosby, Maine, and the life of Olive Kitteridge. Strout does it, again. If you loved the first iteration of Olive you will love this one too, it is like slipping into a sloppy pair of comfortable slippers. Olive lives her life, day by day; irascible, impatient with indulgence and self-importance, unsympathetic on the surface; but with a keen eye for those who need help, a kind word, a supporting hand under the elbow. But she cannot stand pseuds and snobs, though she fears she may be the latter.
Strout has such a light touch when handling difficult, deep emotions, set amongst the picture frame of predictable daily life. There are thirteen connected stories. Each feature Olive; in some she is the protagonist, in others she appears in the periphery of someone else’s life, always at a time of turmoil, grief, divorce or trauma. Often the people featured are former pupils from her years as a maths teacher, often they are friends or neighbours. In the course of this book, Olive mourns the death of Henry and struggles alone in the house they built together. She sleeps downstairs on the large window seat though she spends most of each night awake, listening to a transistor radio she cradles to her ear. Jack Kerrison is mourning the loss of his wife, Betsy. Olive and Jack have an on-off friendship, hearing each other’s travails with their children. Olive worries she was a bad mother and that Christopher avoids her, and she doesn’t know what to do to put it right. She is so prickly on the outside, sometimes on the inside too; but she is also empathetic, determined to be herself in the face of frightening change and old age.
My favourite scene is the one where Olive attends a baby shower, reacting with incredulity then impatience as each present is unwrapped and circulated endlessly around the guests who ooh and aah. Olive has a way of cutting through the crap. ‘She thought she had never heard of such foolishness in her life.’
Another 5* book by Strout.
BUY THE BOOK
Strout was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for Olive Kitteridge and Frances McDormand played Olive in the HBO television series of Olive Kitteridge.
Read my reviews of My Name is Lucy Barton, Anything is Possible and Olive Kitteridge.
If you like this, try:-
‘The Stars are Fire’ by Anita Shreve
‘A Thousand Acres’ by Jane Smiley
‘Barkskins’ by Annie Proulx
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
OLIVE, AGAIN by @LizStrout #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-45V via @SandraDanby