‘Olive, again’ by Elizabeth Strout


2019, 289 p.

I’ve read quite a bit of Elizabeth Strout over the last few years, after falling in love with the first book of hers that I read in 2015- Olive Kitteridge.  I’ve read three others since then: The Burgess Boys, My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible, but I found myself enjoying them less as their similarities became more obvious. I decided to give myself a break from the Strout ‘brand’ for a while.  But when I saw that she had released another book about Olive Kitteridge -my favourite of all her books-  I lined up straight away to read it.

Like the original Olive Kitteridge book, Olive, again is a series of linked short stories where Olive Kitteridge appears at some stage- a bit like Alfred Hitchcock in his movies. The stories are all set in Crosby, Maine which appears to an Australian reader as the quintessential East Coast American town.  Sometimes the chapter is about Olive’s life, at other times she just has a walk-on part with the focus on someone linked to her.  What is common to all chapters is a clear-sighted wisdom about human limitations and frailties. People here are snippy, bad-tempered, frustrated but these are foibles lived out amongst other people similarly flawed.  It’s a very domesticated, family-oriented world, that is very conscious of how stifling and lonely that world can be.

I absolutely loved these stories, and found myself rationing them out to just one chapter a day to make it last longer. Frances McDormand, who starred in the HBO television series now completely inhabits the Olive Kitteridge in my mind as the large, ungainly, abrupt and socially awkward woman who is almost oblivious to her (often negative) effect on other people. But this is an older Olive, who remarries after her first husband dies, and now needs to negotiate her estranged son and his new second-marriage family, with all the nuances of step-vs-natural children. Her health is failing; people are dying; she moves into aged care.  Finally, after all these changes, she mellows somewhat. She recognizes that she doesn’t have to say exactly what’s on her mind; that she can choose to say nothing.

I think that Elizabeth Strout is ‘killing off’ her Olive in this book – I can’t see how she could write another volume about her (death beds are a scenario that would be difficult to stretch to a whole book). But she is letting this character go with her own dignity and sense of self intact, and draws us as readers to view this with empathy and even love.

My rating: 10/10  – just as I rated the first Olive Kitteridge

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

2 responses to “‘Olive, again’ by Elizabeth Strout

  1. I saw the new Olive somewhere, and thought it mightn’t be a risk worth taking – the risk of spoiling the original, which sequels often do. So I am glad you have led the way and found it worth reading.

    • I totally agree with the above. Just finished this on the weekend & loved it just as much as the first.
      Also loved the chapters catching up with the Burgess brothers and Amy & Isobelle.

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