Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Elizabeth Strout - Olive Kitteridge

Olive Kitteridge might be described by some as a battle axe or as brilliantly pushy, by others as the kindest person they had ever met. Olive herself has always been certain that she is 100% correct about everything - although, lately, her certitude has been shaken.
This indomitable character appears at the centre of these narratives that comprise Olive Kitteridge. In each of them, we watch Olive, a retired schoolteacher, as she struggles to make sense of the changes in her life and the lives of those around her - always with brutal honesty, if sometimes painfully. Olive will make you laugh, nod in recognition, as well as wince in pain or shed a tear or two. We meet her stoic husband, bound to her in a marriage both broken and strong, and her own son, tyrannised by Olive's overbearing sensitivities. The reader comes away, amazed by this author's ability to conjure this formidable heroine and her deep humanity that infiltrates every page.

Comment: I got this book by impulse while at a bookstore, making time for an appointment. I had heard of it and was curious enough to not leave empty handed but only now did I read it because I buddy read it with two other people who also had it. I must say it wasn't as wonderful as the hype made it seem...

In this book we follow Olive, the main character, as she takes us through events in the life of the several characters who live in her town, in Maine. Olive is a retired math teacher and she got to know many people because of this work but also because she and her husband have been part of the community for decades. Olive is incisive and sarcastic and she doesn't have the time to be polite but this affect the way she is able to communicate with others and how others see her. What lessons are still out there for someone who has had a full life?

I can see why this was considered good enough to win awards. There's a certain conclusion to all the situations presented, through the eyes of Olive, that expose many traits of human nature as they are: reason for people to be lacking, to not be perfect, to not be able to do the so-called "right thing", among other issues. Some passages are wonderful to allow reflection and thinking,t hat's for certain.

However, there is a flaw in the book, to me of course, which is why I wasn't as fond of reading it as I might have imagined, considering all the accolades. The thing is, this book doesn't have a real plot. This book is a set of little or short stories about people who live where Olive lives too and in most of them we can see some sort of connection but there isn't a beginning, middle and end to this story. This is not a story with a single development line, but a small collection of episodes.

In the first pages of the edition I read there's a note where we learn this and that story (or chapter if one can see the structure in that way) were first published in the magazine x or the magazine y, which means the author has had Olive in the head for a long time and now, she has compiled those shorter stories and added to a set of others, with a more or less linear sequence but where facts are given to us after they happened, and the reader can only read and process them.

Portuguese cover
I see how this can allow one to be introspect with whatever meaning glimpsed in the pages or any kind of message that might have been the goal but it was a little frustrating to read all these pages and not have a specific endgame or conclusion. Things simply...happen and are told and that is it.

I was ready for this story to have a bigger impact in me and in the way life and all its glories and disappointments mean something for someone. After all, olive does represent those people who, after a long life being a certain way, see themselves labeled differently by others and how sometimes it's not possible to change anything..I was quite eager to see wisdom/intelligence passages being given by olive as she would deal with the challenges and the miseries around her, but it turned out that most of the things we are supposed to see are, indeed, miserable, for every character has some kind of problem or worry or tragedy.

It's true most books that win awards or are considered as special by certain classes are often depressing and this is a good example of that. I can't remember a single character in this book who has had happiness in life. Is it true most of us, real people in real life have more negative events happening to us than positive and we still carry on? Probably and in that regard, this book and Olive are just proof of statistics but it was really disappointing to read and that uplifting or amazing message I imagined could still be given in the end wasn't there. Oh well...
Grade: 5/10

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