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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge (2008)

by Elizabeth Strout

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,663484563 (3.93)460
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» See also 460 mentions

English (478)  Catalan (3)  Spanish (1)  Danish (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All (486)
Showing 1-5 of 478 (next | show all)
There are books you want to buy for other people, thrust into their hands and await the exclamations of joy. This is such a book. In a way, I feel I could happily say ‘forget the premise, forget all the reviews – just sit down and read it.’

Olive Kitteridge is the second Elizabeth Strout novel I have read, My Name is Lucy Barton was the first, and while I enjoyed that novel, this one makes me want to read everything she has written.

Although described as a novel the structure of this book is more of a series of linked stories – Olive Kitteridge is at the heart of them. Still, it manages to have the feel of a novel, there is a lovely sense of a community we become a part of, a sense of time passing, things changing, of a relationship that spans decades.

“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.”

A retired schoolteacher from a small coastal town of Crosby, Maine, Olive is a no-nonsense woman whose moods are unpredictable. Opinionated; a big woman Olive is a truly larger than life character. We first meet her before she retires, a middle-aged woman with a sulky teenage son, married to Henry, the popular town pharmacist. Henry is a kindly, gentle man, quiet where Olive is voluble, easy going and ever patient with his wife. Both he and Olive we learn early on have been tempted to stray – but they remain an ever-constant pair.

“You couldn’t make yourself stop feeling a certain way, no matter what the other person did. You had to just wait. Eventually the feeling went away because others came along. Or sometimes it didn’t go away but got squeezed into something tiny, and hung like a piece of tinsel in the back of your mind.”

We follow Olive from middle age to old age, we see her through the eyes of her husband, and the townspeople, some of whom Olive comes into but the briefest of contact – others who are more important. Olive has a knack of seeing right into the heart of the matter – so often in the right place at the right time, or the wrong time. Olive can be remarkably clear sighted about others at least, not always about her own life.

“Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents. Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really.”

There are so many stories to be told, stories of ordinary people, stories that are captivating because they are real. We meet Kevin, back after several years away, he is depressed, haunted by a tragedy in his past. As he sits brooding in his car, Olive – who once taught Kevin – climbs into the car beside him and strikes up a conversation. There is a similar shadow in Olive’s past – and she recognises his pain. Many of Olive’s former students remember being a little afraid of her, but there is a good deal of respect too. Angela O’Meara is a piano player in the Warehouse Bar and Grill – her best years behind her – she never achieved her dreams, and is now trapped in a pointless relationship with a married man. Olive and a neighbour try to help a girl with an eating disorder, Olive as ever tells it like it is, but we see in her, her own brand of sympathy and she genuinely wants to help. Other townspeople we meet are unhappy, conducting affairs, grieving, shielding secrets. The Larkins are a couple shunned by everyone, they stay hidden behind the closed shutters of their home, close to Olive’s house – something terrible happened a few years earlier which it appears no one can forget.

When they are in their late sixties Olive and Henry undergo a terrible, frightening experience when coming home from dinner with friends. We feel the couple ageing rapidly. The experience changes them both. There are tensions with Christopher their only son, mostly between Olive and Christopher. So often surly and uncommunicative as a teenager and young adult, the relationship with the middle-aged man he becomes is no easier. Christopher is in his thirties when he marries, his parents build a lovely house for him nearby, Olive is delighted with the house, with the idea of her son having a family just around the corner, although she doesn’t much like the wife. Christopher’s wife persuades him to California, and Olive is wounded, when Christopher’s first marriage fails and he stays away – she is deeply hurt. For a long time, Olive can’t bear to drive past the house that she feels Christopher should still be living in. As the years go on, the gulf between them widens, Olive isn’t invited to his second wedding, and has little to do with her grandson. A visit she pays her son, his second wife and her children, is fraught with difficulties, bewildering misunderstandings and Olive goes home early. There is a sense that Olive and Christopher see their shared past differently. Olive can be defensive, easy to take umbrage – she buries her hurts inside her, and turns a stubborn face to the world.

“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 gives us an unforgettable portrait of a complex character, Olive is flawed and yet we can sympathise with her – she is wonderfully real, and we get to know her thoroughly. I loved everything about this novel, the sense of place, the characterisation, the wisdom, humour and pathos. All of life is in this novel, and the writing is quite simply superb. I shouldn’t generalise – but in my opinion there aren’t many modern writers who write this well. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | May 29, 2017 |
Eh? After all the glowing reviews of this book I was quite disappointed. The construction of the book was interesting but I was left wanting to know more about the people whose lives we briefly observed. Did any of them ever get it together? I suspect not, since all the characters, regardless of their age or circumstance, seemed to feel isolated, lonely, and depressed. Except Henry. I would have enjoyed this more if it had been called Henry Strout with him as the lynchpin around which everything revolved. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
Review to follow. ( )
  JudithDCollins | Apr 26, 2017 |
i loved the movie. i loved the stories with olive as a main character. i am very so so about the other stories. ( )
  mahallett | Apr 11, 2017 |
Through a series of stories, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout builds a completely rounded presentation of the title character. Set in a small town on the coast of Maine, these stories are loosely connected by the appearance of Olive, and as the author slowly reveals the many layers that make up this complex woman, the reader is drawn into her life and that of the town. Olive is a retired teacher, she is a large, blunt speaking, forthright woman who makes most people nervous and scares many as well. As the book develops we see that she while she is quick to anger, she can also be sympathetic and compassionate toward others. Not one to suffer fools, she can sometimes be rather mean, at others funny and yet again remorseful. Although she plainly sees their faults, she also loves her husband and son a great deal.

Although Olive is front and center in many of the stories, there are some where she makes a fleeting appearance or is simply spoken about. The stories all paint a vivid picture of the residents of this small town, but for me, the stories where she was strongly featured were my favorites. I liked Olive, and enjoyed reading about her and her many moods. Throughout her life, Olive appeared to be growing and learning. This book is beautifully written and the authors insights into marriage, relationships and aging resonated with me.

This book is an original, not a novel nor yet a set of short stories, it combines the two and the result is a fascinating mix. I started off disliking Olive, but slowly that feeling gave way to many others, from pity, to acceptance to appreciation. The author applies pathos and humor in all the right places to produce a thoroughly perceptive and empathetic portrait of Olive Kitteridge and I was delighted to make her acquaintance. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Apr 11, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 478 (next | show all)
Each of the 13 tales serves as an individual microcosm of small-town life, with its gossip, small kindnesses, and everyday tragedies. Not all the minor characters stand out the way Henry and Olive do, and there are a pile of them to keep straight by the end. I also couldn’t quite place how one story, “Ship in a Bottle,” meshed with the rest. But those are small flaws far outweighed by the book’s compassion and intelligence.
The pleasure in reading “Olive Kitteridge” comes from an intense identification with complicated, not always admirable, characters. And there are moments in which slipping into a character’s viewpoint seems to involve the revelation of an emotion more powerful and interesting than simple fellow feeling—a complex, sometimes dark, sometimes life-sustaining dependency on others.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Elizabeth Stroutprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burr, SandraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my mother who can make life magical and is the best storyteller I know.
First words
For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy.
Olive had sat in her bedroom and wept like a baby, not so much for this country but for the city itself, which had seemed to her to become suddenly no longer a foreign, hardened place, but as fragile as a class of kindergarten children, brave in their terror.
She showed him the library built the year before Henry's stroke, with its cathedral ceilng and skylights. He looked at the books, and she wanted to say, "Stop that," as though he were reading her diary.
Who, who, does not have their basket of trips.
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. - "Pharmacy"
Angie... felt she had figured something out too late, and that must be the way of life, to get something figured out when it was too late. - "The Piano Player"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
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 of Crosby, Maine, 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 her husband 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 into a deeper understanding of herself and her life - sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty.

Incoming Tide
The Piano Player
A Little Burst
A Different Road
Winter Concert
Basket of Trips
Ship in a Bottle
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At the edge of the continent, in the small town of Crosby, Maine, lives Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher who deplores the changes in her town and in the world at large but doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her.

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