Olive, Again

Tessa Hadley writes:

In Olive, Again, her seventh book, Elizabeth Strout returns to her character Olive Kitteridge, a maths teacher in small-town Maine. A number of the chapters in Strout’s first, eponymous book about the character had already appeared in print as short stories before the novel’s publication in 2008, so that Olive Kitteridge is really half a novel, half a collection of stories; Olive, Again and most of Strout’s other books have the same hybrid form. Her work progresses by accretion and overlap; she puts a fragment of story in one place, then picks it up somewhere else for fuller development. Characters recur in different contexts. The Nicely daughters figure in My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016) and Anything Is Possible (2017); the brothers who were the main protagonists of The Burgess Boys (2013) turn up in Olive, Again, where the mother from Strout’s first novel, Amy and Isabelle (1998), also puts in a surprise appearance. Characters gossiped about or glimpsed in one chapter become the primary protagonists in another. In Olive, Again, Kitteridge has retired and her forbearing pharmacist husband, Henry, is dead; the book opens with another bereaved spouse, Jack Kennison, whom we met in the last chapter of Olive Kitteridge. Jack and Olive, both prickly and intolerant, are warily finding their way towards mutual consolation.

(LRB 21 November 2019)

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