Daily Archives: August 11, 2009

Review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in StoriesOlive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, this is a book that is going to stick with me.

From the back of the book:

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine, and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

As the subtitle indicates, this novel is told as a series of short stories. Some are directly about Olive Kitteridge, some indirectly about her, and others barely mention her in passing. Each gives us a different viewpoint.

These viewpoints cover different events with different main characters, but we come away with insight into Olive, her husband Henry, the town, marriage, extra marital affairs, parenting, and more.

Each story is wonderful on its own terms, not just what it says about Olive. I think “The Piano Player” (about a very talented pianist that needs a drink to play in public) is one that touched me most, and Olive is only mentioned in passing. In “Starving” (about a young woman with many problems, including starving herself), Olive plays a small role, but one that allows us to see her and the other characters much more deeply.

I particularly want to call out “River”, the last piece in the book. There isn’t much I can say without giving away too much about where the story goes, but I wanted to acknowledge the strength of the ending.

This is a very real book. There aren’t always happy endings. There aren’t always endings of any kind. People aren’t straightforward either.

Olive Kitteridge the woman wasn’t easy to love, but I by the end, I did. The book was much easier to become attached to.

I read Olive Kitteridge for Twitter Book Club. This TBC didn’t work as well for me as my last one, for Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel. I felt like I had a harder time being heard and understood. Maybe this book was harder to break down into 140 character thoughts? I still enjoyed it and got some additional insights into the book (The differences in how Olive was perceived were quite interesting). I should be there for the next one.


Posted by on August 11, 2009 in Book Club, books, reviews, Twitter


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