Easy choice this month – Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. This is the portrait of a difficult woman, maths teacher Olive Kitteridge, and of a community, a small coastal town in Maine. But, is it a novel or a collection of short stories? What I love about this book is that it works as both.
With each of the thirteen episodes there is a satisfying 'epiphany.' Yet as you read on, core threads are explored: the contrast between Olive and husband Henry, the spectre of suicide that hovers over Olive, her troubled relationship with her son, Christopher, and, why does Olive seem to want people to dislike her? As one neighbour remarks, "Olive had a way about her that was absolutely without apology."
Some of the episodes are narrated from Olive's viewpoint. In others we glimpse her as part of someone else's story. We witness her acts of silent compassion, her level-headedness when held hostage in drugs raid at the local hospital, we see her move through the town like some silent force, admired by some but, more often than not, disliked.
This is a book about loyalty and betrayal the small triumphs and huge disappointments in life. It builds into a compelling exploration of why we might need to get along, or at least try to understand, the people we'd much rather avoid.
Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge and it's obvious why. As well the humanity of the subject matter, the writing seems effortless. Strout draws the reader into the nuanced, the not-quite-said, the dark undertow, and leaves us questioning - What is really going on beneath the surface these apparently ordinary and unremarkable lives in a quiet town by the sea?
More about Elizabeth Strout's other books on her website, here.
Watch this video - Elizabeth Strout on the importance of good sentences