Olive, Again – Elizabeth Strout
Olive, Again is a novel that is boldly observant, honest and searches for apperception. The story of the indomitable Olive Kitteridge follows on two years after her husband Henry’s death. Olive is a little more introspective on how she as a person, her behaviour and relationships have transpired as she ages into her eighties.
Two years after Henry’s death, Olive starts a relationship with Jack Kennison, which is touching and meaningful. Jack is also a widower with some history, where an unfortunate affair and dubious sexual assault claim, ended his career as a Professor at Harvard University. Jack’s relationship with Olive develops and while it creates new possibilities and feelings it opens the door on how they behaved towards their respective spouses. How they both missed them and how lucky they are to have each other. It also sparks the realisation that people hide emotions and worries they can’t explain, and which subconsciously agitate prejudices towards the world. Olive is a person who doesn’t step reservedly into how she perceives the world and how quick she is to comment about people in it. As Jack notes,
“People either didn’t know how they felt about something or they chose never to say how they really felt about something. And this is why he missed Olive Kitteridge.”
Olive uncloaks her deepest concerns and reflects for the first time that she may have contributed to the broken or strained relationships she had, especially with Henry and her son Chris. Considering her marriage to Henry, she reflects that as the years passed the more distant her heart became and the needier his became, to the point where she resented his touch – which was unfair. Wondering about her son’s marriage, Olive catches a glimpse of some hidden moments. The door to their relationship slightly opening. Peering into the darkened interior and seeing what she was not meant to see. “Her son had married his mother.” This was how Olive had behaved to her husband, not realising that “… she herself had raised a motherless son.”
The novel delivers what a special book does above entertainment; it creates the scope to connect the writing to your own stories or those you are close to. It enables you to view issues through a different lens and wonder are these the events you couldn’t face or appreciate. We push these notions into the darkest corners of our mind and wrestle with them when we let them loose.
While the first book had an overarching theme of betrayal this book searches for awareness and resolution, and uses various threads to provide amazing glimpses into the difficulties people face in life especially with the burden of illness, family misunderstandings or psychological trauma. The scenarios are intriguing and captivating and along with beautiful prose, this book is a joy to read. I felt this was slightly better than the first book. It was much less a work of short stories and more a narrative of Olive with threads and dialogue that expanded around her.
This is one of my favourite books of the year and it certainly didn’t disappoint after the long wait for the sequel. I highly recommend reading this book and I’d like to thank Penguin Books, Viking and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC version in return for an honest review.