Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I read Amy and Isabelle many years ago on the recommendation of a bookseller in Wisconsin. We've lived in several states since Wisconsin but despite enjoying Amy and Isabelle, I never did read another book by Strout (although I faithfully bought them all only to leave them languishing untouched on the shelves). I'm not the world's biggest fan of short stories but if you tell me that they combine to create a novel, I'm much more likely to read the book. And that is how this Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction was billed.

Set in small town Maine, the reader meets Olive and her husband Henry not long after Henry's retirement. Through them, but mainly through Olive, we come to meet many other people from this small town as well, those who have passed through, those who have returned, and those who never left. Each self-contained chapter shows us a different facet of Olive's life and personality, from how she interacts with a suicidal former student to how others like elderly neighbors at a concert view her from afar. There are no dynamic plot twists here. No real surprises or shocks. Just a common life lived out with all its attendant mysteries and mundanities, misunderstandings, arguments, and shining moments of insight.

An unusual novel structure, this has stories like beads strung on a thin necklace with the character of Olive Kitteridge as the delicate chain holding all of the stories together. And although you might expect otherwise, Olive Kitteridge as a character, does not appear in all of the stories. Sometimes just her reputation is invoked to keep the connection. Strout has invoked a structure that calls to mind a modern day Our Town and she has done it well. Olive may not be the most likeable character, irrascibly obtuse at times and amazingly astute at others, but she is well-drawn and whole, fully believable. Both ordinary and powerful, this collection that makes up a novel is well worth reading.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for the chance to read this one (although I should admit I'd bought it myself before getting the notification as well so a friend lucked out and got a birthday copy).


  1. I picked this for our September book club. I can't wait to read it!

  2. I really like the audio version of this book.

  3. Ooh I just read this! (My review is here )

    This is a good review.... I, too, am not too into short stories so I liked how it was more like different facets of the character in one novel.

  4. I just won this book from a giveaway on Heather's A High and Hidden Place blog and I cannot wait to read it!


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