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Book review: Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Despite her failings, there is something solid and reliable about Olive. I read the second of Elizabeth Strout’s Olive books during one of Melbourne’s lockdowns and it was comforting to read about someone who I felt I knew from her previous book, Olive Kitteridge.

In this story, Olive continues to face struggles including her relationship with her son and daughter-in-law.

And perhaps it is the awkwardness of Olive and her inability to develop a relationship with her son, despite her strong desire for the two to be close, that is so endearing. It is clear that Olive means well, but struggles to communicate her love and warmth to her grown son.

I also love Olive’s slight grouchiness, that if nothing else, is incredibly human.

“They were late. Olive Kitteridge hated people who were late.”

It is different to many of Olive’s relationships where she is often extremely kind and non-judgemental. This appears in Olive’s straight-talking acceptance of her partner’s adult daughter, and her kindness towards a girl going through a difficult time.

However, the her awkwardness around her son reveals the complexity of families that are familiar to anyone with slightly strained relationships that are nevertheless grounded in unconditional love.

I love Strout’s sense of character – I have a clear picture in my mind of Olive. I also love her sense of humour, her eye for human foibles and good natured acceptance of her characters flaws.

“Jack [Olive’s second husband] was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, and his arms looked flabby. His stomach seemed huge beneath his shirt, but Olive’s stomach was big too; she knew this. At least her hind end was covered up. Jack’s blue eyes twinkled slightly as he bowed and ushered her inside.”

These are gorgeous books that are perfect for anytime, but especially during lockdown.


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