Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again [Elizabeth Strout, 2008, 2019]

I started reading Olive Kitteridge a good while ago. I wasn’t glued to the story from the beginning, so I read the first few chapters in hiccups. Then my e-reader broke, and there was a long hiatus before I got it back and picked up the book again.

When I picked it up, after all this time, something peculiar happened. It was as if I’d rediscovered Olive, as if she was an old acquaintance I didn’t particularly appreciate, but crossing her in the street after years of not seeing each other made me look at her with fresh eyes. In fact, Olive Kitteridge reminds me a lot of some people that I have known for many years, because they live in the town where I grew up. I never paid particular attention to them, because they are just acquaintances, but at some point our lives crossed and we say hello, we know a few things about each other and their being there is as natural as the landscape that makes this town the town where I grew up.

The story of Olive Kitteridge is bit like that. It portrays this complex, not easily lovable woman in the context of her home town. It tells her story through chapters where she is the main actor, but also through the lives of others, whose paths cross Olive’s in different ways. There are a lot of layers to this book, and all of them speak about many of the struggles, but also the beauty that we can find in life, in our interactions with other people, in our fights with the world but also with ourselves.

About Olive, the main character, at first I felt she was portrayed as a cold and somewhat mean character, seemingly unaware of the discomfort she provoked in other people, and at the same time easily offended by the lack of attention or warmth others would dedicate to her. But with the evolution of the story, she becomes more aware of this, and at the same time shows how she is capable of empathy and acts of friendship, kindness and even love, that impact people in a special way, transforming her in the process.

They were both wonderful books to read, and especially the second one, which finds a more mature Olive in a later chapter of her life, living new situations that are brought around by this more developed self-awareness.

I really enjoyed the writing too, with some parts that made me smile inside. Here is one of my favourites from the first book:

“And then as the little plane climbed higher and Olive saw spread out below them fields of bright and tender green in this morning sun, farther out the coastline, the ocean tiny and almost flat, tiny white wakes behind a few lobster boats – then Olive felt something she had not expected to feel again: a sudden greediness for life. She leaned forward, peering out the window: sweet pale clouds, the sky as blue as your hat, the new green of the fields, the broad expanse of water – seen from up here it all appeared wondrous, amazing. She remembered what hope was, and this was it. That inner churning that moves you forward, plows you through life the way the boats below plowed the shiny water, the way the plane was plowing forward to a place new, and where she was needed.”

Strout, E. (2008)

And this one, from the second book:

“What she would have written about was the light in February. How it changed the way the world looked. People complained about February; it was cold and snowy and oftentimes wet and damp, and people were ready for spring. But for Cindy the light of the month had always been like a secret and it remained a secret even now. Because in February the days were really getting longer and you could see it, if you really looked. You could see how at the end of each day the world seemed cracked open and the extra light made its way across the stark trees, and promised.”

Strout, E. (2019)

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