Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

When I heard that Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year I thought “Oh finally, they are giving that award to someone I like.” I hadn’t read the book yet but I was very optimistic. After all, I loved Strout’s two earlier novels, Amy and Isabelle, and Abide with Me.

I should have known better. One of the requirements for winning the Pultizer Prize for fiction is that I must hate the book.* Indeed, the Pulitzer committee calls me every year to make sure that they aren’t giving the prize to something I liked, by accident. (Ha! Just kidding!)

Olive Kitteridge is a series of connected short stories set in New England, where Strout’s previous two books have also taken place. The same characters pop in and out of various stories, including Olive Kitteridge, who is a retired school teacher. Most of the stories are just small episodes in the lives of the townspeople. I suppose they are meant to be poignant snapshots, but I found them to be disjointed and confusing. While the characters in Amy and Isabelle and Abide with Me are clearly drawn and memorable, the characters in Olive Kitteridge seem almost interchangeable with one another: here’s an ineffective man, and here’s another; this woman is disappointed, and so is this other one. I really can’t say enough awful things about this book. On the other hand, Abide with Me was just lovely. Go read that instead.

*Okay, I’m exaggerating. I liked Middlesex (2003), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2001), and Interpreter of Maladies (2000). But I hated (really really hated) The Road (2007) and was pretty bored by several of the other recent winners.

(Book 42, 2009)

ETA more specifics, less ranting.


Cath said...

"One of the requirements for winning the Pultizer Prize for fiction is that I must hate the book.*"

I wrote THE SAME THING in my review of OK. We're the only two people who don't like this book; do you want to start a club? Support group? ;)

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

Thanks for the warning. Did you ever read "Martin Dresser?" I think it won years ago and wasn't half bad.

Titti said...

Hi there! I just stumbled upon your blog while searching for books by Monica Dickens. I have a book blog (in Swedish only) and next year I'm going to read alot of books by Charles Dickens. I thought it would be nice to read something by his great-granddaughter aswell. Your blog looks interesting and I'll pop in every once in a while.

Amused said...

Oh crap! I have this in my TBR pile. I guess I'll have to see what I think and we can compare notes!

Unruly Reader said...

Oh, your comment about the Pulitzer Prize made me laugh! I feel almost the same way about the Booker -- I've either loved (a few) or detested (most) of the Booker winners.

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

Thanks for the honest review. I've heard a lot of good things about this one but I wasn't really attracted to the plot. I think I'll avoid it for now.

prashant said...
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andi said...

Thank you for hating this book. Why does everyone love Olive Kitteridge? I actually had to do google search to find people who hate this book. It's like Jerry Springer winning a Pulizer!

I found Olive to be terrifically inconsistent. Ninety five percent of her life she spends being narrow and childish. The other five percent she is Jesus -- saving people from suicide and healing the down trodden??

Apparently people eat this stuff up.

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