Olive, Again, Elizabeth Strout

Returning to Olive is like returning to an old friend, or antagonist. She is the blueprint for the unlikeable heroine who it’s impossible not to love. Would I love her in real life? I doubt it. But it’s rare that you get to really know someone in real life. This is something that books give to us, close readings of people and psyches. Many people are happy to ‘tell all’ in confessional writing but they don’t have the distance that a novelist does. Often, and I’d say this is certainly the case for Olive Kitteridge, people also lack the kindness towards themselves to share adequate self-portraits.

Strout is a genius, this has been decided. She casts a wry eye over the minutiae of big and little lives, showing us that the little is usually big and how deeply everything is connected. It is a delight to find Olive enjoying another adulthood in this novel, a true second installment. She finds another husband. She experiences different pleasures. She grows old.

Olive dies, as we all do, on her own. I found the image of her falling back through the ranks to end up almost in a schoolgirl setting at her retirement home the hardest to bear. Physical decline is inevitable, but having to scale your life back to a time before you had full control of it is awful.

As ever, if you haven’t read this, or anything else, by Strout, get going.


The paperback is coming on 5 November