Tag Archives: family drama

#BookReview ‘Olive, Again’ by @LizStrout #literary #contemporary

OliveAgain 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. Elizabeth Strout

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.

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

#BookReview ‘The Carer’ by Deborah Moggach #humorous #familydrama

At first I didn’t know what to make of The Carer by Deborah Moggach. She travels a fine comic line nudging towards simplistic or tasteless stereotypes. But then, as she did in These Foolish Things, the novel finds its stride. In two parts, Moggach takes her original portrayal of this family, shows it through different eyes, and turns it upside down. Deborah Moggach

In Part One we meet widower James Wentworth, OBE, 85, retired particle physicist, living downstairs in his home after breaking a hip; and his live-in carer Mandy, 50, from Solihull. ‘Mandy hummed show tunes as the kettle boiled. Blood Brothers was her favourite, about two boys separated at birth. She said she had seen it three times and blubbed like a baby.’ Mandy is fat, jolly, is a chatterer, and says it as she finds it.

Part One is told from the alternating viewpoints of James’ children. Unfulfilled artist Phoebe, 60, lives in a Welsh village in the area where she had many happy childhood holidays. Robert, 62, former City trader, is now writing a novel in his garden shed in Wimbledon, while married to a television newsreader. Our first impressions of their father, and of Mandy, are filtered through their middle class worries and prejudices. Both harbour resentments about their father’s absences when they were children when he travelled the world for work; resentments that straight-talker Mandy tells them they should have got over years ago.

Mandy is truly a catalyst of change, not just for James but for Robert and Phoebe too.

The situation is a believable one faced in today’s society as we all live longer. James in his eighties needs full-time care, his children are already retired. A succession of carers has come and gone, each unsatisfactory in one way or another. When Mandy arrives she seems an angel. Initially, Phoebe and Robert put aside the class differences as Mandy cares for their father so well. The daily walk to the nearby donkey sanctuary or trip to Lidl for pots of flavoured mousse, soon become day trips to Bicester Village and eating at Nando’s. Initially thriving under Mandy’s care with daily scratchcards and a chirping kitchen clock, James seems more forgetful so when Robert’s daughter sees the papers from James’ desk upstairs in a mess, they fear the worst. Why is Mandy looking in their father’s private documents. Can she be trusted. And what has prompted James’ sudden mental and physical decline. The twist which comes halfway through is masterful.

Part Two is James’ story, starting from his life as a young father and married to Anna. One day he attends a conference in Cardiff. What happens there affects the rest of his life, but in ways even he cannot have predicted. At the end there is one more twist, unexpected, that once again casts Robert and Phoebe’s understanding of their lives into a whirlwind.

At the heart of this novel is the question, can you ever really know someone. Whether with a stranger or a long-loved family member, don’t we all sub-consciously present different faces to different people. It is easy to assume we know someone because of the public face they present to the world, but the inner thoughts of other people, even our closest relatives – and often their marriages – are always a mystery.

Littered with throwaway quotes from Shakespeare, this is on the surface a quick, contemporary read (only 272 pages) which also casts a light on the prejudices, snobberies and problems of modern society. It is billed as a comic novel but it did not make me laugh. I was left feeling vaguely disappointed.

Read my review of these other novels by Deborah Moggach:-

If you like this, try:-
Crow Blue’ by Adriana Lisboa
In the Midst of Winter’ by Isabel Allende
The Only Story’ by Julian Barnes

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE CARER by Deborah Moggach #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-45Q via @SandraDanby