Olive Kitteridge, a stern retired school teacher from a small seaside town in Maine, is the central character in this book of linked short stories. Each chapter is a complete snapshot in itself, but all together becomes an album of sorts, a well rounded and masterful novel that won the Pulitzer prize in 2009. Elizabeth Strout is an amazing writer. Years ago I read her book Abide with Me, which is also set in a small town and also is a novel full of the tough stuff of life. If you like books by Mary Lawson (Road Ends) and William Kent Krueger (Ordinary Grace), you’ll like books by Elizabeth Strout. And incidentally, if you are not a short story fan (like me) don’t be put off. I found these short stories easy to get into and superbly done.
New England is an atmospheric setting for the story. Olive is an enigma. At once cantankerous and compassionate, testy and trustworthy, ferocious and faithful, her harshness results in driving people away, but she also saves lives. Her manner is off putting, especially next her to long-suffering and kind husband Henry, but her character is so complex and full of surprises that we are intrigued about what makes her tick. Each chapter introduces new characters from the town, but people we’ve already met do pop up in other chapters. As I started each new story I was already anticipating how and where Olive would appear.
Telling the story this way, creates a well rounded view of the town as well as of Olive herself. “There is no such thing as a simple life.” Olive may at times seem like a beast but deep down she has the same flaws, fears, and longings as anyone, making this a profound human story that I found very real and satisfying.
Also fun was watching the HBO four episode TV mini-series after I finished reading. The television version is very true to the book and also very well done.