Read of the Week: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

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This week we’re delving into Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout which recommended by Alex Joynes who shall sadly be signing off as a Reader Leader this Christmas.

“Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it.’

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

I have to say that I often cry at films and books. There are only two occasions, however, when I have been so overcome with the joy of recognition at what I’ve been watching or reading that I have let out what can only be described as a sob. One of these occasions was the TV drama Marvellous. The other was Olive Kitteridge.

Olive Kitteridge is made up of thirteen stories concentrating on the lives of residents in a fictional Maine town. In each of these chapters, often at the forefront but sometimes only ever in the background, is Olive Kitteridge herself, a retired seventh grade teacher.

Olive is sharp, sad and blunt. She is also misunderstood, charming and wickedly funny. Through her interactions with her husband’s colleagues and her estranged son, Olive’s character is gradually revealed in all its messiness and glory.

At the heart of Olive Kitteridge is a study of who we are as people and how this is reflected in our interactions with others. It made me think about how I treat the people I love and my general dealings with the world as a whole.

Olive’s private view is that life depends on what she thinks of as “big bursts” and “little bursts.” Big bursts are things like marriage or children, intimacies that keep you afloat, but these big bursts hold dangerous, unseen currents.

Which is why you need the little bursts as well: a friendly clerk at Bradlee’s, let’s say, or the waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts who knows how you like your coffee. Tricky business, really.

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

As I reflect back on three wonderful years at The Reader, it’s this lesson that I will take away with me above all others: the importance of kindness, in all its forms.

 

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