‘Olive Kitteridge’ by Elizabeth Strout


2008,  270 p

Thank heavens. After reading two stodgy books that cried out for the slash of an editor’s pen, here was a collection of short stories with crystal clear writing and every bit of fat decisively cut away.  I’d starting reading a review of the recent series of Olive Kitteridge showing on television until I realized that it was Pay TV, which we do not have and will not have.  It sounded like something I thought I would enjoy, but given that I wouldn’t be seeing it any time soon, I stopped reading the review after a few sentences.

So I was surprised to find that it was set in Maine, and not England, which for some reason I assumed  (from the rather stodgy name ‘Olive Kitteridge’ perhaps? It sounds English to me).  Nor was it set in the 1940s, which I also assumed.  It is a series of short stories and Olive appears in each one of them- sometimes as the main character, sometimes just as a walk-on figure in the background.  Olive is a large, acerbic, retired teacher who has lived in her small town for many years and taught mathematics to every young person in town.  She’s brusque and clumsy, and you can see why her son has distanced himself from her and why people don’t really like her very much.  Some of the stories are set in the near-present (9/11 has already occurred) and the stories skip around in time.  Nonetheless, they’ve been well compiled with a scene in the opening story matching a similar scene in the last story in the book- a pleasing sense of symmetry.

These are short stories as I really like them (yes, Whispering Gums, I LIKE them!) with connections between them, but standing alone as well. Perfect length- about twenty pages, and just enough of them.

It’s absolutely just right.

Except for the cover. What is it with women’s backs?  Stock images, no doubt. But this cover had absolutely nothing to do with any of these stories.

My rating: a resounding 10/10. Loved it.

11 responses to “‘Olive Kitteridge’ by Elizabeth Strout

  1. Get the DVD! I recently watched the whole series in a binge over two nights. It was fascinating and occasioned lots of discussion.

  2. Oh, oh, oh … I’m dying to read this. I was given it for my birthday a year ago and everyone says it’s great. Will I get to it this year? I didn’t know about the DVD either so will look out for it too, but only after I’ve read it.

  3. It’s a wonderful book. I first read it a few years ago. Then when the TV mini series was available, watched it, then watched it again with my mother, within a week. It’s fantastic. (There’s been some discussion around Olive and that Frances McDormand wasn’t right ‘physically’ that Olive is a much larger woman, but boy, she’s fabulous. Spot on for me. All the acting is wonderful and the setting, perfect.) I then lent my mother the book, then re-read it when I got it back.

    On covers with women’s backs, agree with you. Shudder. But they are popular.

    • I’m surprised that France’s mcdormand was questioned for the role. I would have thought that she was just right.

  4. I found her to be so, but a couple of people, who had read the book and adored it, did question her. Anyway, hope you enjoy it once you get to see it. She is wonderful; the whole thing is wonderful.

  5. Pingback: ‘Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand’ by Helen Simonson | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

  6. Pingback: ‘Olive, again’ by Elizabeth Strout | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

  7. Pingback: Six degrees of separation: between ‘No-one is Talking about This’ and …. | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s