Waterstone’s book of the month for August was the Pulitzer prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge – A Novel in Stories by Elizabeth Strout.
I always feel a bit nervous of reading Pulitzer Prize winning novels, in case I don’t like them, because I feel, that if I was an ‘accomplished’ reader, should I not at least find them compelling and have some kind of emotional reaction to them? Does it make me an accomplished reader if I enjoy them or a stupid reader if I don’t? I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that its all personal taste and it doesn’t matter how many awards a book has won, its either going to appeal to you, or its simply going to pass you by!
Olive Kitteridge – A Novel in Stories was a charming and clever read, consisting of a series of short stories that come together to tell a whole story, of not just the lead character, but of the people in her community and how their lives all interact over a period of time. Olive herself is a beautifully constructed character, flawed in such a way that you find yourself becoming fond of her from the first chapter. Well I certainly did! Charming, loveable, annoying and very unpredictable, she is surrounded by a supporting cast of characters who each have a bit of their stories told in individual chapters, with Olive flowing in and out of each of their stories and lives. She’s the main character, if the collection of stories is said to have one, popping up at odd moments, bringing her grouchy yet compassionate nature into their lives in some way.
I admit I adored Olive, felt for her son and husband, she won’t be an easy character to love for many people and both of them have a troubled relationship with her. But like all classic characters her flaws are what draw you to her as a reader. When I recently read A Man Called Ove, I fell in love with Ove, because beneath all that grumpiness, was a man who was socially awkward, but other characters, could like me, see past that, to a man who cared. You as a reader and they are characters in his story just had to work hard until he let you in, the reward being beyond expectations!
If this book had a flaw for me, is that I find short stories frustrating! I always want to know more about the characters and short stories don’t give me enough time to get to know them!
It’s a fantastic read, but one that I feel would benefit from a having each story, fleshed out into longer tales of those characters, because Strout’s writing makes them all as intriguing as Olive herself.