Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
Read: 28 November - 8 December 2020
Release year: 2019
This book was my favourite one of my Rare Birds Book Club picks for November. The Rare Birds Book Club gives you a choice between two books every month. You do not know exactly which books they are, but you can choose from two book descriptions. All of the books are written by female authors and feature women as the protagonist(s). At the end of the month, you can discuss the book with the other members on their website. This month, though, I couldn't make a choice between the two books, so I bought both. The other book I received was Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones.
Olive, Again is a follow-up to Pulitzer-prize winning Olive Kitteridge. You don't necessarily have to read the former to understand what's going in this book. I didn't read the first book myself, but I did see the amazing HBO miniseries based on that novel, so I was already familiar with some of the characters. This book is divided into 13 different short stories, either about Olive Kitteridge herself or in some way connected to her. Books like these are always nice to read as you can read just one chapter, put the book away and pick it up again once you have time.
Olive, Again is about the ordinary life of Olive Kitteridge and the people who live in the same village. Olive herself, in her seventies and eighties in this book, comes across as a very judgemental person who doesn't shy away from expressing her thoughts. She often doesn't understand why her opinions come across as harsh. It's not that she doesn't care about people, but she shows this in a very quirky way. Personally, I think Olive lacks the ability to filter her thoughts in order for them to be seen as 'acceptable' by society, but that actually makes me like her more.
“When you get old, you become invisible. It’s just the truth. And yet it’s freeing in a way.”
One of the main themes in the book is ageing. Olive herself is afraid of not ageing gently. How long can she still drive her car? Does she ever have to wear "poopie panties"? How long can she live in her house without any help? In one of the earlier chapters, Olive visits a former student of hers who is currently battling cancer and the two of them start talking about mortality. As a result, Olive reflects a lot on her life in this book. She wonders if she was a good wife in both of her marriages and whether she was a good mother to her son Christopher. She also tries to figure out what kind of person she was in her life.
“I do not have a clue who I have been. Truthfully, I do not understand a thing.”
I absolutely loved this book. There isn't really a plot, but Olive makes up for that as she is such an interesting, peculiar character. She could have come across as very unlikeable with her crankiness and brutal honesty, but the writer has portrayed her so well that you realise she is just struggling understanding her feelings and those of the people around her. I love reading about characters who aren't polished, but are more like real, normal people. One of the other interesting things about the main character is her age. Not many books today feature an elderly person as the protagonist.
“Well, that’s life," Olive says. "Nothing you can do about it.”