Book Review of Elizabeth Strout's Olive, Again
I read Elizabeth Strout's Olive Again without having read the first Olive Kitteridge, but I don't think it adversely affected my enjoyment of it at all. Olive, Again is quite simply one of the best books I have ever read. It would be a wonderful text to choose for an animated book discussion group. I defy anyone to not fall in love with the cantankerous, old, troubled, self-contradictory curmudgeon who is Olive.
In this novel we meet Olive about to embark on her second marriage to Jack after the bereavement of Henry (who I believe features as the local pharmacist in her first book). We leave her, somewhat reluctantly, living in a care home in Crosby, Maine, stating that "Truthfully she (I) does not understand a thing."
As a reflection on life we are encouraged to laugh, cry, and share the insight, or at times lack of insight Olive continually displays. Elizabeth Strout is pure genius in getting to the very heart of the human condition. There are no issues she shrinks from and explores topics as diverse as paedophilia to being a dominatrix to infidelity to incontinence. The extreme and the mundane sit side by side to create a normal and weirdly realistic view of small town life.
Although presented as a novel, the book is arguably a series of vignettes in which Olive features either centrally or on the periphary as a neighbour, friend or teacher. Within the book there is something and someone that everyone can relate to in their own neighbourhood. As a reader I haven't come across a book more likely to engender an empathetic response. It is the perfect book club choice.
Book Discussion Questions for Olive, Again
What five adjectives would you use to describe Olive? What is Olive's best and worst quality?
Both of Olive's husband's die before her. Explore how she felt towards both husbands. Do you think she preferred one ot the other?
Book Club Questions for Elizabeth Strout's Olive Again - when you haven't read the book!
Summing up Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
As I put together these book club and book discussion questions it was interesting to note that it was just as easy to create questions for those who haven't read the book as it was for those who have. I have found that with other book club questions I've written too. I think that is testament to how well Elizabeth Strout explores the human condition. With relatively few words she masterfully creates unique yet universal snapshots of life that each and everyone of us can really relate to.