Barbara's Reviews > Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
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May 05, 10

Recommended for: DEBBY,KELLY,GAIL

Elizabeth Strout has penned a beautiful book, which has left me deeply pensive and tearful. I am not generally attracted to the short story, but this is not truly of that genre. It is a series of vignettes, many of which have Olive Kitteridge as the main character. Each story is about the inhabitants of Crosby, Maine, a small seaside village, all with complicated tales of their own. Olive is ever present, even fleetingly,to tie the people to her in some manner.

When I first started reading, my thoughts kept reverting to John Mortimer's Rumpole, who referred to his wife as "she who must be obeyed". However, as I became better acquainted with Olive, I began to view her as a much more complex individual. Strout has adeptly painted the picture of an overly critical, irritable and intractable woman. She vacillates between being overly controlling to exerting an apparent desire to be helpful and needed. Strout has succinctly developed the psychology of this aging, lonely woman, who in her frequent fault-finding of others has failed to see her own errors. When she does view them, she feels helpless to mend her ways. She is a tragic, lonely woman. As the stories continue, Olive begins to view life with a more tender awareness and some constructive actions.

There is so much more that can be stated about this wonderful book, but it is essential to give praise to Elizabeth Strout for this tender, sad and thought provoking work of literature. Although I rarely reread a book twice, I believe that this one will return to my shelf soon.
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Comments (showing 1-31 of 31) (31 new)

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Maria This is supposed to be really good, I hear.


Barbara So I hear too, but it's not at the top of my list.


Maria I'm picking up one more Kingsolver and this book from the library this week. I'm very curious!


Joan Winnek One of my favorite books, like a multi-faceted gem.


Cynthia I thought it was great.


Maria Me, too - multi-faceted gem is a good choice of words.


message 7: by Kelly (new) - added it

Kelly It sounds enticing - how are liking it so far Barbara?


Barbara It is really wonderful. Some of the characters remind me of "A Bright Forever", even though the geography and time period differ.


Rose I knew you would love this! Elizabeth had sent me a copy after she read it and wanted to share this absolute marvel of a book.


Barbara I haven't stopped thinking about it. It is so deep and sad! It makes me think of my mortality.


Elizabeth (Alaska) There is so much to think about in this one. The younger women seem to focus on Olive's unsocial behavior. There is so much more.


Barbara Absolutely true! They didn't "get it"!


message 13: by Joan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joan Winnek I've actually read Olive Kitteridge three times, and taken away more from each reading. The first story sets us up to dislike Olive. Because I read it quickly the first time, and later stories make her a more sympathetic character, I forgot this, so missed the author's intentions in positioning this story first. Often Olive is perfectly awful. She has the good fortune to have a husband who truly loves her, and the misfortune that he is a better, simpler, more liked person than she is (he unwittingly makes her look bad). She loves her son but is a terrible (even abusive) mother. Yet with Kevin she intuits his terrible trouble and does not leave him alone.
I learned from people who attended a reading by Elizabeth Strout that the author deliberately did not make Olive the central character in each story (in one she is only alluded to), because she is too much to take. This adds to the power and sympathy with which she is portrayed, I think.


Barbara Thanks for your enlightening coments, Joan. As I suggested, Olive was definitely more complex than I first thought. Henry, her husband, was a wonderful man, who really seemed to understand her.


Maria I'm so glad you loved this, Barb; isn't there a bit of Olive in all of us? Not that I'm not immortal myself and never getting "old." All right, "older."


message 16: by Joan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joan Winnek Olive started out reminding me of my mother, then of me: appalling, but yes, she's in us. Strout's portrayal of her gives us more self-awareness than Olive has, I hope.


Cynthia Joan wrote: "Olive started out reminding me of my mother, then of me: appalling, but yes, she's in us. Strout's portrayal of her gives us more self-awareness than Olive has, I hope."

There was a lot to consider about OK. For the most part I haven't put much thought into how others perceived past the people I really care about that is AND being 'kind' in a socialized kinda way but this book gave pause. It made me realize around people I know, like and trust I really let my guard down and let my freak flag fly (on the more boring end of the spectrum) but there have been times when I'm with a closer co-worker or friend and people who don't know me well are around and I'll get some startled looks. Later my friend will tell me how funny they thought that was that people thought I was serious about whatever and asked them if they were ok with what I'd said.

My point being it's all in perception and the time and place that something happens. OK's husband could see her heart. And so could the younger folks that she felt great compassion for. With her students she had a job to do to help them in their later life and took that seriously. Her abruptness would help with that though it didn't meld with the more shy type of student. How could she have been other than herself though? I bet even with her son if he'd had a different type of temperament he would have let it flow off his back but I could be wrong.


message 18: by Barbara (last edited May 07, 2010 12:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Barbara Excellent commentary, Cynthia. You realize that some of your GR friends already know about your "freak flag", which is really very appealing to me!

I have already decided to reread this to sort out more of my thoughts. I definitely could relate to her and her husband in their view of living their lives. My "mature years" have made me feel and see exactly what she was thinking.

We did not really get very complete info about how O was with her son. She made reference to having hit him, but was it often? Was it truly a beating? Of course this is not acceptable, at any rate. She mentions how she used to like sitting with him. I believe that she could not give her son what he as an individual needed. She was not an expressive or affectionate person, so these may have actually been the things he felt lacking. So maybe your premise about his temperament is also in keeping with mine, C!


message 19: by Rose (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rose Barbara said, "My "mature years" have made me feel and see exactly what she was thinking."

I agree! I find that I don't have the patience to "edit" myself as much! Now that I live in the "South" this can be shocking to some. Here when someone says something abrupt they tend to be prim and say, "Now isn't that "interesting"! :)


Maria I'm afraid I edit myself rarely now.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I'm currently reading Elegance of the Hedgehog. Renee Michel is the prickly title character. Renee was willing to slam doors in a person's face. Similarities? Olive could be described as prickly, but she also showed much gentleness. In the end, did Olive learn to edit herself?


Teresa Barbara wrote: "I believe that she could not give her son what he as an individual needed. She was not an expressive or affectionate person, so these may have actually been the things he felt lacking."

There was also all the complaining she did about her husband when her son was a boy that disturbed the son as well. Olive seemed to always be an 'impatient' person, not just acquiring that attribute as she got older.


Teresa Elizabeth wrote: "In the end, did Olive learn to edit herself? "

I think she did to a certain extent. Certainly much more so than she had previously.


Maria Elizabeth - got your invitation re reading challenge, but I have to say no thanks because I'm still in school.

Hi Teresa!


Teresa Maria wrote: "Elizabeth - got your invitation re reading challenge, but I have to say no thanks because I'm still in school.

Hi Teresa!"


Hi, Maria! Happy to hear about your nearing the end of the school year and going to your singing camp!


Cynthia Teresa wrote: "There was also all the complaining she did about her husband when her son was a boy that disturbed the son as well. Olive seemed to always be an 'impatient' person, not just acquiring that attribute as she got older...."

T I love that you represent 'our' group age wise. You make a good point about OK and her boy being out of sync temperamentally and how she impacted him. I remmeber my twin nephews when they were ~2 and one of them always seemed to 'get' me/us but the other one scared me so much when he kept putting his finger in the light socket. He just wouldn't stop and I was so afraid he'd electrocute himself that finaly I smacked his hand when he did it. His little face looked so betrayed when I smacked his hand. I think it scarred both of us.....but I never saw him do it again. He's even alive now! And 24.


Teresa Cynthia wrote: "His little face looked so betrayed when I smacked his hand. I think it scarred both of us.....but I never saw him do it again. He's even alive now! And 24."

I think we've all been through something like this. Who knows, you probably saved his life!


Barbara The sadness I felt for Olive was,in great part, how she viewed her mortality. The key was when her husband talked about how they had fewer years remaining than they already had lived. I think, among other things, it made her want to redeem herself in her son's eyes.


Cynthia Barbara wrote: "The sadness I felt for Olive was,in great part, how she viewed her mortality. The key was when her husband talked about how they had fewer years remaining than they already had lived. I think, amon..."

I loved that statement, really puts things into perspective.


message 30: by Rose (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rose Wow, what a great discussion!


Barbara Rose wrote: "Wow, what a great discussion!"

Certainly you may join us, Rose!!


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