Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is one of those books that somehow passed me by. Every so often it would turn up on a ‘Must Read’ or ‘Favourites’ list and I’d think, “I really should read that book.” Then I progressed the matter. I bought a copy. It sat on my shelf for eons. Then I took on the Mount TBR Challenge and, when deciding on the titles to tackle for the challenge, my eye fell on Olive. And so here we are…
Olive Kitteridge is probably best described as a collection of tightly woven short stories rather than a ‘novel’. The stories all hinge around one character, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher who deplores the changes in her little town of Crosby, Maine and in the world at large, but doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her. I must emphasise ‘tightly woven’ because it’s not a collection of stories that you could delve into at any point – little details build to create a grander narrative, threads of seemingly stand-alone stories weave together as a whole. And that is why this is such a good book.
As the Pulitzer Prize winner in 2009, so much has already been written about Olive Kitteridge that I can’t add much. There were a few things that stood out for me. Most notably, this is a beautifully delicate book. Despite some scenes that are quite violent and the fact that Olive is painted as a cantankerous, forthright woman, Strout’s writing is gentle and careful.
I also loved the fact that despite having multiple ‘leading characters’, each resonated with me in some way. It is through the other characters that you also begin to (but not wholly) love Olive. In many ways, Olive reminded me of the character of Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables.
Finally, this book had me thinking about old age. Yes, that sounds rather glum however it confirmed my thoughts about a pact a friend and I made a few years ago. Wondering why old people didn’t ‘flat together’, we agreed that should we ever find ourselves alone in our old age, we would. The basic benefits (company, shared expenses and someone to look out for you) as well as the fact that we would quite like to sit down to a gin and tonic and watch reruns of The Hills together at five in the afternoon together, make for an agreeable arrangement.
No doubt it’s a crime not to pair this book, set so vividly on the coast of Maine, with a hearty seafood chowder or a lobster roll. However, the mention of corn muffins in the second story caught my fancy. Coincidentally, I had just had a delicious, moorish corn and parmesan muffin at a cafe the day before. Clearly all roads lead to savoury muffins. Savour these – corn and prosciutto muffins served with roasted tomatoes.
4/5 I’m hovering near a 5/5…. what’s holding me back? Perhaps there was just a few too many very sad stories in the town of Crosby, Maine.