Wednesday, December 2, 2009

REVIEW: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout. Published 2008 by Random House. Short stories. Literary fiction.

Olive Kitteridge is a novel in short stories centering on the eponymous Olive, an elderly married woman living in the small town of Crosby, Maine- a retired teacher, wife of the town pharmacist and mother to a troubled son. The stories themselves don't all focus on Olive, although she appears in all of them in one way or another; sometimes, she's only present for a moment but in a book where her character is studied and revealed by the whole, even a moment can be illuminating.

I loved Olive Kitteridge. I didn't always love the woman but author Elizabeth Strout's ability to make this complicated, difficult and eccentric woman human and whole is the reason to read this luminous book. I read it over five days last summer when I was sick and staying home a lot (along with a couple of other books) and I think having that compressed time with it helped me savor the details and nuances of Strout's careful portrayal of this woman and her community. There were moments of ugliness- when Olive vandalizes her daughter-in-law's closet, for example, or when she and Henry are attacked- and moments of beauty, when the reader gets inside her private world and the feelings she never shares with anyone. My favorite story was the last one, a moving paean to love lost and found. My eyes were more than a little moist by the end of this lovely book.

All the stories share Strout's careful attention to detail and craft. The writing is literary and accomplished and Strout creates a vibrant community full of secrets and dysfunction as well as love and redemption- in other words, a place both real and believable. I particularly admire the way Strout contrasts the public tranquility of the Kitteridges' lifelong marriage with the chaos of this woman's private inner world. Olive Kitteridge is one of those books I hope everyone reads at some point; it's that special. It will certainly be among my top picks for the year. I hope you get a chance to read it!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.

28 comments:

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Fantastic review, Marie! I especially liked your points about "even a moment can be illuminating" and not always loving the "difficult and eccentric woman" who Strout made "human and whole."

One of my tops for the year, too!

Care said...

Fabulous review! I agree with everything you say, and you say it so eloquently.

Alexia561 said...

Had seen this book around, but wasn't sure if it was for me or not. Thank you for helping me make up my mind, as it sounds wonderful! Will definitely pick up a copy now. I agree with Care..your review was so eloquent! Great job!

Kris said...

I liked how E.Strout used a short story format, but turned it into a novel. I wonder if that was her original intent. This book was bittersweet-but I think the lows were lower than the highs perhaps. The extremes of human existence, love, marriage, birth and death in all it's forms are explored through the various characters. It almost feels like the author made a list of "when bad things happen to good people"-a quite extensive list, and then allowed the various characters to reveal how they processed their experiences.

Blodeuedd said...

Oh no, I brought this one back since it didn't manage to catch my attention (oh and the writing was tiny.)
But perhaps in teh future

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've heard mixed things about this book, but I really like the points you bring out in this excellently-written (as usual!) review, and think in light of it, I must read it after all!

Laura said...

This quote about Olive, early on in the book, is so telling: "He wanted to put his arms around her, but she had a darkness that seemed to stand beside her like an acquaintance that would not go away." What a great way to describe depression. And also this one: "She would like to say, Listen, Dr. Sue, deep down there is a thing inside of me, and sometimes it swells up like the head of a squid and shoots blackness through me." I read this book earlier this year and never reviewed it myself, so I was glad to read your review.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I really want to read this book because I feel that it is one that I would enjoy. I just haven't had the time yet. Glad to get a great review as a reminder

caite said...

Very good review. Yes, this is one I have seem mixed reviews about, a love it or hate it thing. But I keep seeing people discuss it, so I keep considering it.
You have moved me way over to the 'buy it' side...lol

Sandra said...

Great review Marie. I enjoyed this novel very much too. It really showed how much of a person's life remains private and unknown by most. I try to keep in mind that when we judge someone we are not fully informed about what makes them tick.
Thank you for your note by the way, I wasn't even up to reading email for a while there. Glad to be able to comment again though. I've missed you and your lovely blog.

Alayne said...

Nice reivew, this one is on my TBR. Glad you liked it.

bermudaonion said...

I really want to read this book! It's on my Christmas wish list, so maybe Santa will bring it to me.

Charley said...

I hope to read this book soon. I wonder if the last story will be my favorite, too.

lilly said...

Great review Marie! It really gave me a reason why I should read this book. I have read other peoples' opinions and they were all very positive but none could exactly pinpoint why this book is so great. Now I know why I should give it a try.

nomadreader said...

I'm so glad to see you loved this one! I got it for my birthday, and I'm really looking forward to reading it.

jewwishes said...

Your review is great, Marie, and beckoning me to read the book.

JoAnn said...

Excellent review, Marie! I loved Olive Kitteridge, too, and it will be one of my favorites this year.

the heart is a lonely reader said...

I managed to get a remaindered copy through my bookstore, but I still haven't gotten around to reading it. I'm hoping to squeeze it in before the end of the year.

In the past year, I've noticed how readers who usually claim to have little interest in short stories are starting to come around on the format. It's great when a book structured in stories and vignettes can get so much critical attention. I'm hoping it will open up the short story to a lot of literary fiction readers who may still shy away from getting their literature in small fixes.

Moya said...

I just finished reading this last night and could not agree more!

shonasbookshelves said...

Great review. I have issued this book twice from the lib and returned it unread. This time I get it I am finishing it. This review will be the sole reason I read it . Thanks

pinkflipflops said...

I have heard a lot about this and I think since it has come up so much lately in my blog reading, that I must offically had it to my to-read list. :)

Anna said...

Great review! I wasn't sure I wanted to read this one, but now it's going on my to-read list.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I didn't always like Olive either, but I thought she was a wonderfully developed character. Thanks for the review!

stacybuckeye said...

Ive been on the fence with this one, but your review has me thinking I need to read it. Great review!

S. Krishna said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one so much! I can't wait to read it.

Jeanne said...

I loved this book, too. In my review a while back I said I identified with Olive sometimes, and tried to say what you said better about how she's not always easy to like. This is the book I'm sending my friends and relatives for the holidays.

Zibilee said...

I bought this a little while ago and have heard nothing but good things about it. I read another of her books called Amy and Isabelle, and thought it was a wonderful and complex read. This book does indeed look very promising and I will have to let you know what I think about it when I am done. Great review, I am glad you loved it!

Serena said...

great review. I keep hearing great things about this book.