For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summer-time roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy.
–Elizabeth Strout - Olive Kitteridge - c.2008
Olive Kitteridge would not be regarded by most people as a nice woman. She is stern. Unforgiving. The scariest teacher in the local high school. Her husband is almost her exact opposite. Many people wonder what he ever saw in her, nice, affable Henry Kitteridge?
But while Olive is not the easiest person to get one with she is also a compassionate person. One who wants the best for people. She may not know how to communicate that. She may not always be at her ease, or help others to be at their ease, but she is who she is, and she makes no bones about that.
Over the summer I watched the miniseries adaptation of this book and loved it. Frances McDormand was simply wonderful, but so too were the supporting cast, and the script. It was just brilliant. So very sad and moving. And because of that I wanted to read the book, eventually I got around to it, and I think it is great too. Obviously some things got changed, but I’m not that interested in comparing the two. Different media need different things.
The book itself is less a novel and more of a series of related stories, some featuring Olive Kitteridge at their heart, some barely mentioning her. But together they make up a wonderful, although very sad, story of a woman who is trying her best but often not succeeding in life. It is about the small moments that make up people’s lives as well as the big things. Death and love, next to growing flowers and buying doughnuts. It is so worth a read.
It feels to me almost like an unusual book, in that usually these stories of the small moments that are so important are about male characters. Men going through mid-life and having a crises, or learning the world has changed. But usually, if these books are taken seriously, they have a male protagonist. I may be wrong in this, maybe I just don’t read enough non-genre fiction to comment properly, but it felt wonderful to have a book like this from a female point of view, and yet be a serious story.
I don’t mean serious as in lacking in humour, but that it is able to balance the light-hearted moments with the darker. It is able to talk about the world and people and say something worthwhile. Although what it says is up to each reader.
I had so much sympathy for Olive, all the while knowing that if I knew her in real life I would probably try to avoid her. She could bring comfort to some, and yet be so dismissive and almost contemptuous of those closest to her. Her relationship with her son, for example, is probably the saddest in her life. They remember things so very differently and she doesn’t really understand why his childhood has so many unhappy memories. Didn’t he know that she loved him so very much?
It’s a great book.