Review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

11 Aug

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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20 responses to “Review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

  1. BookwormMari

    August 11, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    I agree with your comments! I’m holding out for a full review/recap for later this year when the Omaha Bookworm’s discuss the book.

    Reading Olive gave me the push to read Abide with Me. It was the same rhythm but Olive is much better!

    So glad you enjoyed this book.

  2. Kari

    August 11, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I’ve wanted to read this book just because it won the Pulitzer and because I’ve heard “good things.” I’ve never known what those good things are, and I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what this book is actually about until now. Thanks for giving me a summary and review after which I actually know what this book is about!

  3. Sue

    August 11, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I’ve been anxious to hear what you thought about it – my neighbor liked it, too. It sounds great. I’m interested to see for myself how the interweaving short stories approach works. Thanks for the great review!


  4. Sheri

    August 11, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I bought this book a few months ago. I recommended it for our book club and we voted it for our October read. I can hardly wait!

  5. madeleine

    August 12, 2009 at 6:45 am

    This book is my next read after THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, which is by the way a very good mystery

  6. Belle

    August 12, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Great review. This isn’t normally the kind of book I’d pick up, but you’ve got me interested.

  7. Holly

    August 13, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Great review. This one sounds so good.

  8. Literate Housewife

    August 19, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    I have this on audio, but only listened to the first chapter. Your review makes me want to pick up and start listening again!

  9. rolodexter

    June 27, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I’m sorry. I know this is supposed to be a great collection of short stories, as it’s recognized well, but the shorts are boring. I think I might have just picked this one up at the wrong time. I’m going through this thing, where I don’t really like fiction in the third person. I’m finding the third person narrative to be irritating, corny, trite. The leaves did this, and the sun did this to the building. It’s trite. It’s exhausted. We all don’t have very much time these days, and save for the awful reason to just stop and smell the shitty roses, I really am finding that fiction has to say something; come out with it already. I’m impatient. I’ll try it again in a month.

  10. Marzo

    September 27, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I just finished OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout, i did enjoy the book and am curious after reading the Random House interview at the end of the book. Is Olive Kitteridge a real person????

    • Laura

      September 27, 2010 at 2:09 pm

      I’ve seen authors interview their characters before, I’m still pretty sure that Olive Kitteridge is fictional! It’s a fun artistic device.


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