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“Olive, Again” by Elizabeth Strout – book review

Oh Godfrey, as Olive Kitteridge likes to exclaim, I adored this book.

Olive is the blunt, borderline rude retired teacher at the heart of this novel (though in many ways it’s more a collection of interconnected stories), and you grow to love her the more you get to know her – especially when she throws caution to the wind and starts dating Jack, an equally blunt and pot-bellied old man who likes tooling around in his sports car while taunting police officers and drinking whiskey.

Aside from the fact I like cantankerous old people, being one myself, I also loved the tone of this book.

For me, it was perfect pandemic reading. Even though a lot of bad things happen in this book – death and the indignities of growing older being just two of the lesser horrors – the narrator’s tone is oddly comforting as the lives of the small town of Crosby, Maine are described, with Olive invariably featuring (or at least appearing) in most of them.

Maybe it’s because, to some degree, the book takes on Olive’s own harsh and yet empathetic view on life: namely that it’s hard and unfair and we have no idea what we’re doing, and yet it can at times be bearable – maybe even enjoyable – if we’re just honest with each other and ourselves.

It’s at this point I need to mention something I should have at the beginning: namely that Olive, Again is the sequel to Olive Kitteridge, which came out in 2008 and won the Pulitzer Prize. I never read it, but I certainly will now. They also turned Olive Kitteridge into a HBO TV show starring Frances McDormand and Bill Murray – but when the author is this good, I’m still going to read the book first.

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