Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

Fourteen members were welcomed to this month’s meeting with apologies and thoughts on the book received from members unable to attend.  Brenda started by asking generally what members thought of this book and it quickly became apparent that this was a book that virtually all members thought was rather a miserable read (apart from the Parrot with his odd funny quips that was really great!). One member said it was neither a “here nor there” sort of book.  Members could not find a theme, most saying they were bored halfway through as a realisation dawned that there was no real story as such.  Everyone agreed it was written more in a diary format with the actual concept of the central character taking a long time to get in to!  Not uplifting, more of a plodding, challenging chore to finish it and pure relief to do so!

Saying that, one member really loved it, reading it from a different perspective to most – finding the stories and setting of the characters within the separate chapters just right, and unfolding into an enjoyable read with Olive just popping up everywhere.  A couple of members said that they didn’t dislike the book totally, but were just frustrated with it at times.

Several members felt sorry for Henry (her husband) whom she did not seem to appreciate  – one member saying that it took a long time for Henry’s illness to be mentioned – although she did visit him daily when he was there. Several members thought this may have been more of a routine for her, but of course it had come through the book that she did not really care what others thought, so there were mixed feelings on her relationship and love with Henry. There was also a feeling she was OTT with her son, Christopher, and although her relationship with him was good she had not realised this and could not let him go, setting up conflicts and obsessions which caused problems with her daughter in law. A discussion then took place on how certain incidents were portrayed following a short courtship, quick marriage and then the move away – one member quoting the infamous line “a daughter is for life but a son only until he takes a wife” fitted quite well.  One or two members said they would have loved to hear more about him in the book and of course Henry too.

Olive’s character was not liked – a couple of members said they felt sorry for her up to a point.  It was felt she suffered due to her father’s suicide; she was definitely not a happy woman and her demise was caused by her early life, reflections on her life – an ordinary life – a life she had time to think through but she didn’t seem to learn from. It was thought that she was in the end looking for love. Members agreed that the end did not gel at all, was not cohesive nor well put together and wondered if the book would have been helped with a title change. Majority did not like it or the “heroine” Olive of the book.

Members decided a book best to be left behind on an unwanted book table somewhere.