A friend of mine raved about this book, thought I would really like it and let me borrow it. I was a little apprehensive at first, because I’d heard a lot of people talk about Olive Kitteridge and usually when everyone else loves a book, I don’t really enjoy it. But Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout was completely surprising and I loved it.
What was most surprising about the novel to me was the format – it’s not organized as a typical book; it’s set up as a series of short stories in which Olive always appears, whether as a main character or as a very minor player. This unusual format makes Olive Kitteridge so compelling and gives a great amount of depth to the various characters.
At the beginning of the book, Olive is a middle-aged mother and teacher and by the last chapter she is an 80-year old grandmother. In between these bookend stories, neighbors contemplate disease, death, unhappiness, infidelity, independence and freedom. Olive surprises the reader by offering amazing words of wisdom and exhibiting such empathy and other times reacting with such harsh words and insensitive actions. She is an overbearing and harsh woman who is loving and understanding in her own way.
Some of the most heartbreaking stories in the novel involve Olive acting much more sensitively than we are accustomed to. In one scene, her new daughter-in-law critisizes Olive’s dress behind her back and it hurts Olive so deeply that she can’t make sense of her emotions. Another scene where she is embarrassed to learn that she has spilled ice cream on her shirt and no one told her was the most impactful for me. Strout does such an amazing job of illustrating exactly how silly, hurt and humiliated Olive felt that I couldn’t help reliving times I’ve felt that way. It was so heartbreaking to see such an independent and strong-willed woman feeling so low that I nearly cried.
I really loved this book and was sad to turn the last page because I knew I would miss Olive and her Crosby, ME neighbors. But I was also relived to finish the novel since at times I found it so sad and lonely that it made my heart hurt.