WellRead’s November 2019 selection was Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. Olive, Again is a novel made up of stories that are connected by the stubborn, formidable, often rude, always judgemental, but sometimes very tender and deeply empathetic Olive Kitteridge. Strout can get to the core of a person with a simplicity that astounds you.
Use these discussion questions to engage with the book further, whether in a book club with friends, or just on your own as you digest the story.
Reading questions for Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
Let’s talk about Olive - cranky, flawed, stubborn, brave, beloved Olive. Did she win you over?
- Was there a particular story that spoke to you or moved you the most?
Strout is both concerned with showing empathy in her characters and also eliciting it in her readers. Were you aware of this? Do you think empathy is a requirement for love?
Strout’s characters endure some pretty awful stuff - spousal abuse, parental neglect, the affront of aging, debilitating loneliness - but ultimately there is a resilience to them. Did you find this affirming or did it make you completely miserable?
How did the book make you feel about yourself and those around you getting older?
In the story Arrested, Jack is frightened by “how much of his life he had lived without knowing who he was or what he was doing”. Likewise in Motherless Child, Olive realises that she has failed as a mother. Regret, disappointment and introspection are experienced by many of the characters in the book. How useful are these feelings? Does it help pave the way to redemption or just make people feel lousy?
In the story Cleaning, a teenage girl permits a man with dementia to observe her and rather than feeling assaulted by his voyeurism, feels oddly empowered. Strout admits that it was a risky scene to write but says that she is interested in writing against the grain and in the complicated aspects of human experience. What did you make of it?
- Did the structure work for you? Were you as invested in it as you are reading a linear novel or would you have preferred to just stay with Olive?
Please note, these questions were written and distributed in November, 2019.