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Olive Kitteridge | [Elizabeth Strout]

Olive Kitteridge

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Tart, sorrowful Olive Kitteridge is the moody battle-ax intersecting each of Elizabeth Strout's exquisitely spare new "novel in stories". imperfect and struggling, Strout's characters grind through the dulling routines of ordinary domestic life in churchgoing Crosby, Maine: the drudgery of fixing supper night after night or shivering through a lukewarm show. They are awkward, but authentic. "Patrick McCarthy...perspired so much that splotches of his shirt would be wet, at times even down over his breasts, so the poor fellow looked to be lactating," observes Strout.

Olive is a retired math teacher with the habit of saying "these weird things, very powerfully", which agitates her students, natch. Henry, her husband, is a gentle pharmacist who dispenses "pills and syrups and syringes", yet cannot cure his own wife's destructive eruptions. Their melancholy son Christopher grows into a distant teenager, then a brittle adult. He inherits his mother's tormented relationship with depression.

Olive and Henry don't anchor all 13 tales. Points of view shift, revealing a wistful lounge singer and the 11-year-old daughter of a cracked former beauty queen, among them. Narrator Sandra Burr mostly nails the flat, dawdling Down East accent ("ayuh") of coastal Maine. She refines Olive's bluster by pitching her voice low and slow and growly, thus hinting at the despondency behind Olive's attacks. As for ponderous Henry, Burr permeates his dialogue with apologetic throat-clearings to channel how "inwardly, he suffered the quiet trepidations of a man who had witnessed twice in childhood the nervous breakdowns of a mother".

Burr isn't showy about her extraordinary range, though she easily could be. Olive Kitteridge thrives largely because she invests each character with distinguishable emotions. Nina White, anorexic and wasting into bones, begins all zippy teen inflection and finishes in subdued, unlit tones. Burr embodies Kevin, a young psychiatrist revisiting his mother's suicide, with the raw rasp of a hurting dude. The single misstep Burr makes in an otherwise faultless audio rendering is oozing too much buttery lilt as Jane, a housewife who kicks up her 75-year-old husband's adulterous betrayal in the midst of revived marital bliss.

Strout chronicles love, loss, infidelity, and aging within the cyclical framework of time passing. Christopher divorces, remarries, and fathers a child. Henry suffers a massive stroke, becomes paralyzed, then dies. Olive shows herself to be capable of deep kindness and vulnerability. When zonked by an unexpected romance with a widower while still grieving Henry, 74-year-old Olive puzzles, "Here they were...two slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union--what pieces life took out you." And, with that, Olive Kitteridge's redemption becomes a fait accompli. —Nita Rao

Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2009

At the edge of the continent, Crosby, Maine, may seem like nowhere, but seen through this brilliant writer's eyes, it's in essence the whole world. The lives that are lived there are filled with all of the grand human dramas: desire, despair, jealousy, hope, and love.

At times stern, at other times patient, at times perceptive, at other times in sad denial, Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher, deplores the changes in her little town and in the world at large, but she doesn't always recognize the changes in those around her: a lounge musician haunted by a past romance; a former student who has lost the will to live; Olive's own adult child, who feels tyrannized by her irrational sensitivities; and her husband, Henry, who finds his loyalty to his marriage both a blessing and a curse.

As the townspeople grapple with their problems, mild and dire, Olive is brought to a deeper understanding of herself and her life - sometimes painfully, but always with ruthless honesty. Olive Kitteridge offers profound insights into the human condition - its conflicts, its tragedies and joys, and the endurance it requires.

©2008 Elizabeth Strout; (P)2008 Brilliance Audio

What the Critics Say

"Thirteen linked tales from Strout present a heart-wrenching, penetrating portrait of ordinary coastal Mainers....impossible to forget. Its literary craft and emotional power will surprise readers unfamiliar with Strout." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (888 )
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Performance
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  •  
    R. CASEY austin, tx 12-31-08
    R. CASEY austin, tx 12-31-08 Member Since 2007

    lopine

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    "a great read"

    I really enjoyed this book and hated to see it end. Well written and rich characters. I don't write many reviews but had to put in a recommendation for this. If you like well-written fiction, you'll love this book.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    gingerpenny95 Fairfield, Ca, United States 03-30-09
    gingerpenny95 Fairfield, Ca, United States 03-30-09 Member Since 2003
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    "If you like Maeve Binchy"

    If you like Maeve Binchy, the Irish writer who weaves short stories with recurring characters into a novel, you make like this one. The reader is wonderful at changing voices and her New England accent is easy to listen to.

    I will probably listen to this one again because I need to get straight some of the characters that reappear. All in all, a good read.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jen ravenna, OH, United States 01-16-14
    Jen ravenna, OH, United States 01-16-14 Member Since 2007
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    "Gotta Love that Ollie"

    I sincerely feel that the depth of ones enjoyment of this novel will lay solely on the age of the reader. There are many thoughts that the women in this book have that could not be enjoyed and appreciated by a woman younger than 40 years of age. To someone over that age there are points and phrases in this novel that felt like someone was singing the song of a tune that I could only hum.

    This is not your happily ever after feel good story. This is a collection of stories about the same group of people. Olive Kitteridge is sometimes the protagonist in a story and other times she gets just a cameo mention. Where you don’t see some of yourself – you see someone you know. I found this to be enlightening and poignant.

    Sandra Burr’s voices allows you to hear the size of her characters – they are that visual. Her range of men, children and women is impressive, not to mention her accent.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bethann Denver, CO, USA 02-08-10
    Bethann Denver, CO, USA 02-08-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Thought provoking & bittersweet"

    I know some people had a problem with the narration, but honestly, I don't see why. Olive Kitteridge is an old woman with a New England accent. I felt that the narration was fitting.

    While some stories I didn't "get" or enjoy as much as other stories, overall, the picture the stories created was so touching. The best stories were the ones with Olive, for sure. I am excited to buy the hard copy of this book and reread it, and use it in my high school literature class. I think you might need to be a little bit older to appreciate the themes of this book, but the language is beautiful. Not to be missed!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elaine Wellsville, New York, United States 11-15-09
    Elaine Wellsville, New York, United States 11-15-09 Member Since 2009

    I'm a country potter, gardener, flute player and tin tinker living with my husband, an electrical engineer & cabinet maker.

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    "Pulled me in"

    Olive Kitteridge pulled me into her life from page 1. I certainly didn't like all of the characters but I'm glad to have experienced them. I read this for book group and we all had a hard time defining Olive. Was she self centered and helped people because it gave her some sense of power or being? Was she sensitive but prickly for self protection? Was she unaware of the needs of others? If she really wanted everyone to suck it up then how could she allow herself to cry every night for months?

    I found some of the relationships between couples to be absorbing and sad. One woman speaks of how her husband spent hours helping her find the right winter coat. Would my husband do that for me? Not likely but he has spent hours fixing things I've broken and he spent a week of his life repairing and rebuilding a marvelous door that I dragged home from someone's trash. (It looks great now.) Anyway, thinking about how older couples care for and hurt each other reduced me, wife of 36 years, to tears. We're getting old. One will be alone to walk 3 miles a day by the river at dawn.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carol Meindl 06-22-09 Member Since 2006
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    "One of the best books I have ever experienced"

    Winning the Pulitzer Prize was my first clue that "Olive Kitteridge" must be a very good book. I found the author to be extremely perceptive in showing us what life and growing old means to Olive and to many of the people in her life. Strout shows us also the variety of ways they impact each other in touching, sad and occasionally humorous ways. I loved her artful construction of the book into a series of interrelated short stories. A true masterpiece.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Everett Leiter New York, NY 12-19-08
    Everett Leiter New York, NY 12-19-08 Member Since 2004
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    "Coming of age - later years"

    This is a rather intriguing collection of inter-related stories that take place in a small town in Maine. We see the human growth of Olive Kitteridge, a retired schoolteacher and a fascinating character. She is the focus of most of these stories and at least makes an appearance in every one of them. The stories and the excellent narration give a vivid sense of life in this small town. Marital and inter-generational conflicts are portrayed with believable honesty. In general, the female characters are better developed than the male ones, but that is presumably the point of view of these stories. Quite enjoyable.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paula United States 01-31-12
    Paula United States 01-31-12 Member Since 2010

    I want to read books that take me to a "place and/or time" I've never been. On the other hand, I love reading about places where I HAVE been.

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    "Such an unlikeable character, that Olive!"

    Not highly recommended.
    A series of short stories which take place in a coastal town in Maine. One character, Olive Kitteridge, has at least a small part in each of the stories. It follows this rather nasty, controlling, opinionated school teacher from middle age through her senescence. She never changes. She approaches most every situation with a negative demeanor.

    A Pulitzer Prize winner! I just do not think was worthy of that award. The prose was good and I liked the way Olive was woven into each of the stories but I just did NOT like the main character. The other characters in the book are somewhat interesting but it made me glad I did not live in that town with all those depressing folks. A few of the stories had ambiguous endings that left me scratching my head. I suppose the author wanted us to leave the ending "open" so that we could make our own. It wasn't an effective element for me. That kind of ending (so very french!) is supposed to make a reader think and wonder. I wasn't compelled to 'think' or do any contemplative examination of the ending. It left me frustrated.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MP 11-10-09
    MP 11-10-09 Listener Since 2008
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    "A Classic"

    I have read and listened to many books and this one is a real classic. It takes some getting used to Sandra Burr, but once you're into her narration you can't imagine a better listen. The text itself is breathtaking and true to our humanness and life struggles. This book and audio-book are MUST read/listen--without a doubt. Do it. Listen. Now. This is an amazing piece of literature.

    6 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 12-23-08
    Kathy Davis, CA, United States 12-23-08 Member Since 2008
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    "Not a fun listen"

    but I stuck with it. It is a strong indictment of the senior years and this book does not make the "golden years" something to look forward to or welcome. Too many calamities and problems--death by anorexia, infidelity, near drowning, lonliness, etc, etc. And let's face it, Olive is not an admirable or likeable lady. Still, it was a listenable and sometimes interesting story of a women with a difficult personality.

    12 of 17 people found this review helpful
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