Review: Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

9780241374597In Olive, Again Elizabeth Strout once again makes exquisite fiction from the stuff of ordinary lives, as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author addresses mortality in thirteen anecdotes set in Crosby, Maine, linked by the presence of Olive Kitteridge.

It occurs to me that, in fiction, old age  is sometimes treated with acrid sentimentality or totally ridiculed. Rare is the writer capable of examining the inevitability of the human condition with gracefulness and astuteness. Ageing is both a rite of passage and a process of discovery, and through the experiences of Olive, Strout evokes trenchant of insights from the most nuanced of interactions. As Strout charts a decade in Olive’s life we witness her evolution, from the notoriously thorny matriarch to, well, as Olive puts it,  “just a tiny—tiny—bit better” of a person. But still Olive. Always, Olive.

In a year of brilliant literary fiction — Patchett’s The Dutch House, Parrett’s There Was Still Love, Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys — Strout’s latest sits among that echelon. A book to love, and to be returned to, and loved again.

ISBN: 9780241374597
Format: Hardcover
Number Of Pages: 272
Available: 5th November 2019
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd

Review: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

9780241287972Anything is Possible is a luminous collection of short stories tied to Elizabeth Strout’s previous novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton,  which told the story of a hospitalised novelist — the titular Lucy — coming to terms with her destitute childhood during evasive conversations with her estranged mother. It was a delectably quiet, understated, but powerful novella; one of those books you read, and enjoy, but only fully appreciate once you’ve let it marinate.

Anything is Possible is kind of, but not exactly, a sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton. It is set in and around Lucy’s hometown of Amgash, Illinois, and indeed, she features as a main character in one of the stories. But this book has more of a connection to Strout’s Olive Kitteridge than My Name is Lucy Barton, in that is comprised of distinct, but interconnected short stories, each of which delves into the minutiae of small-town life.

The book focuses on the complexities, ambiguities and vulnerabilities of everyday people. As with any collection of short stories, some are more resonant than others. Sister — featuring Lucy Barton, her sister Vicky, and brother Pete — is worth the cover price alone (even for those who’ve not read My Name is Lucy Barton); so too the final story, Gift, which stars the Barton’s second cousin Abel. Really, they’re all gems, each of the nine stories demonstrating Strout’s incredible gift. Her understated prose cuts through to the core brilliantly.

ISBN: 9780241287972
Format: Hardback (198mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 280
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 4-May-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


Review: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

StroutElizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton is a delectably quiet, understated, but powerful novella. It is about a woman unravelling the tapestry of her life, with particular emphasis on the five days she spent with her estranged mother by her side during a nine week hospital stay. Don’t let its page count fool you; this is a story of great depth and plenty of nuance, brought to life through Strout’s flawless, elegiac prose.
The novel is about relationships, predominantly between Lucy and her mother, but also with her father, a professor from college, a neighbour, a former writing teacher, the doctor who cared for her during her stay in hospital, and many more. Strout exposes the complexity of these relations, unveiling the dark undercurrent that runs between some, divulging parochial love affairs and unjustified, one-sided friendships and affiliations founded on falsehoods. But whereas other writers might do this clunkily, with long-winded passages of meandering lyricism, Strout’s narrative maintains its distinct poetry without the unnecessary accoutrements.

My Name is Lucy Barton delivers hard, emotional truths. Honest and affecting, it’s a real treat, and achieves more in its 200 pages than most other novels you’ll read this year. This is storytelling at its deceptively-simplest and finest.

ISBN: 9780241248775
Format: Hardback (205mm x 134mm x 21mm)
Pages: 208
Imprint: Viking
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Publish Date: 4-Feb-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom