Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

From the back: At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn’t always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance: a former student who has lost the will to live: Olive’s own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.
As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life–sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition–its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

First Line: For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads. or rainy roads, or summer-time roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off th where the wider road led to the pharmacy.

My Thoughts: This was an unusual novel for me. The fact that is was a series of short stories linked together and revolving around a central character (Olive Kitteridge) was a interesting way to create a novel. In some of the stories Olive just had a bit part, in others she was the story. In each one you learn a little more about Olive, see different sides of her. I found her to be noble, vicious, pitiable, smart, self centered, unaware and even likable depending on which side you were seeing. For the most part I could not understand Olive, she had a husband who loved her and a son who wanted her love and she gave them nothing. I found this book terribly depressing from the first story (which broke my heart) to the last. There were no bright spots as I read stories of accidents, deaths, murders, near-drownings, suicides, eating disorders, divorces, affairs, and cruel acts and thoughts. I felt for the characters, which shows how well written they were. Elizabeth Strout's insights into the working of the human mind made me want to examine my own life. Am I as oblivious to my loved ones as Olive? Even a little? I hope not. Since this was essentially a book of short stories, there were many characters and few were reoccurring. I would like to know what happened to some of them.
This was a well written book, beautiful prose in places, but totally depressing.


Quote: "There were days - she could remember this - when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure."

Elizabeth Strout
Pulitzer Prize
Wikipedia article


Anonymous said...

This was one of those that I wanted to love, but just didn't.

Rose City Reader said...

Depressing is right. "Exhausting" was my summary take on the book, even if it did win the Pulitzer.

Here is my review on Rose City Reader. Can I add a link to your review on mine?