Thursday, June 04, 2020

'Olive Kitteridge' by Elizabeth Strout

4 June 2020

Lots of people I know have raved about Elizabeth Strout’s novel ‘Olive Kitteridge’ so I was keen to read it for myself. It’s a structurally interesting book, consisting of self-contained chapters that feel like complete short stories, each focussing on different residents of the coastal town of Crosby, Maine. The main characters from one chapter sometimes appear again in the background of later stories but the eponymous Olive Kitteridge is almost omnipresent – though often playing a supporting role in someone else’s tale. Olive is a retired maths teacher who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Initially a difficult person to like, it is a measure of the author’s skill that you gradually warm to Olive while still appreciating the reasons why others don’t. The stories of ordinary people whose lives have been changed by some momentous event reminded me of the novels of Anne Tyler and the short stories of Raymond Carver. Elizabeth Strout paints an evocative picture of this small town and it’s fun guessing where each chapter is going as she tends only gradual to reveal the particular trauma that has led a character to where they are now. But this makes for a fairly unremittingly melancholy collection of stories. There is plenty of gentle humour but ‘Olive Kitteridge’ is a sad set of reflections on ageing and the human experience.



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