Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

This month for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club I'm discussing Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.

I first learned about this novel in book club.  We were listing our all time favorite novels and one reader mentioned this one, then chose it for our next read.  Because of my impressions of the woman who selected the book and the context in which we were discussing it, I assumed Olive Kitteridge was an older novel, perhaps something she'd read in college.  I thought it would have a prominent religious message.  I thought it would be quiet and probably a little conservative or at least conventional.

None of those assumptions proved accurate.

Olive Kitteridge is a novel, though it doesn't seem like one.  It's actually a volume of short stories, many of which are completely unrelated to each other.  Quite a few of the characters show up only in one story and then are gone from the book forever.  This breaks all the rules of good story-telling.  But it works for this narrative, and the one consistent thread is Olive herself.  

She appears in every story, either as a main character - as when her husband is the narrator - or merely as someone who walks through the room in which someone else's story unfolds. 

This works in large part because of the author's skill, but also because of Olive herself, who is complicated, fascinating, and nothing at all like I expected her to be. (The series of stories ends up telling one larger story about Olive's life, which makes it feel like a novel, in the end.)

Are you intrigued yet?  I hope you are.  Because I loved this book and want you to go read it too so we can talk about it.

(And after that, perhaps you can point me to a good grammar tutorial on using an awkward word like "assumptions.")

P.S. "Elizabeth Strout’s most recent work, Olive Kitteridge, a novel in stories, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was a New York Times Bestseller. She is the author of two previous novels, Abide With Me, a national bestseller, and Amy and Isabelle, also a New York Times Bestseller."

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy


Barrie said...

Must. Read. This. Book. :)

David Cranmer said...

A short story collection that breaks the rules. I like that.

Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love, love, love this book and her other two. I think I reviewed this here a few months ago.

Sarah Laurence said...

I LOVED the book Olive Kitteridge even if she was a mixed bag of a character, hateful and giving. The writing was top notch and set in my part of Maine. I was disappointed by Amy and Isabella but maybe that was only because Olive was so much better.

You might also like Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, interlocking short stories in different genres.

Sarahlynn said...

Barrie, I long to know which camp you'll fall into: Olive hater or Olive sympathizer?

David, it's a fabulous read. My husband is listening to it now, but isn't sure he's convinced yet. (I've heard the audiobook doesn't pack as much punch.)

Pattinase, I forgot your review! Thanks for the reminder.

Sarah, I haven't read Strout's other books yet, but I'm sure I will now that OLIVE hooked me. I will definitely seek out CLOUD ATLAS.

Did you identify with Olive? I did: hateful and giving indeed.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Sounds intriguing and different. Enjoyed your review.

Anonymous said...

I was really hoping you hated it. Haven't read it myself, but everyone just loved it. It makes me sick.

Also: 它的成就絕不會超過自己的信

Sarahlynn said...

Because you hated it or because everyone gushes over it so much? It helps that I had no idea what to expect from the book (other than the short story thing, which intrigued me). I really though the heroine would be a sweet, attractive, young woman. She's retired and cold and sort of mean . . . and I loved her.

The book pissed me off because I really really wish I'd written it.

"Its success will never exceed your letter"?

Anonymous said...

Because everyone loves it. The fact that it's good makes it even worse; I don't care so much when everyone loves crappy books.

My mother just read it, actually, and said she loved it throughout but then hated the last several chapters/stories. So I imagine those are the only ones I'd -like-. I haven't done more than flip contemptuously through it, though. (By 'contemptuously' read 'with a terrible burning envy.')

Sarahlynn said...

There are definitely some weaker stories. But then the afterward/interview with the publisher includes a real-feeling conversation with the interviewer, author, and main character. And that redeemed the end of the book for me, too. Drat it all.

I did finish thinking, "Why bother if this is the book of my heart and someone else wrote it? B*tch."