Thursday 2 June 2011

A happy ending

Olive Kittering by Elizabeth Strout (Randomo House, 2008): a good book, a very good writer, Pulitzer Prize-winner, I'm surprised I'd never heard of her before.

The format is not the usual novel: about twenty short stories take place chronologically in the same little town in Maine, with the characters reappearing in various chapters, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes briefly mentioned as if at a distance. The language is spare, the psychological truth of the characters a great strength. I particularly liked the way people conjecture about other people's motivations or states of mind and get it wrong, as in real life. 

There is mostly an atmosphere of depression and disappointment, which is redeemed in the last chapter, where Olive finds happiness. I wondered whether the publisher said, Really, Liz, do something about this, too too gloomy...

Indeed some of the reviews complain about that, and a friend of mine never finished the book, because some of the painful events are too similar to what has happened in her own life, through no fault of her own. Reading Elizabeth's biography, found that she qualified in law and attained a Certificate in Gerontology at the same time, the latter being a social work degree. She is very bright and in her mid-fifties.

Plan to review the short story for an hour - no more - and get on to the book again. Ch is out and the house is quiet and warm. Great!

Still reading No Simple Passage, a little irritated that it is not over by now, am finishing it in order to finish.
One word too many on p. 208 - After the 1884 earthquake:.. "Even the Jews... humiliate themselves, fasting from even until even and uniting with their brother colonists in fervent supplication to Him..."  What is this Even? Christianity is descended from Judaism, and Jews humiliate themselves ritually on the Day of Atonement every year...Frequent fasts are ordained in Orthodox Judaism. It is in accordance with their creed. I am also not sure that 'eating up large' is such a feature of the Feast of the Tabernacles, it has more to do with what you eat, not how much.

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