I was intrigued by the topic of this book. After all, I’ve never had children and I’m happy with it, but I realised not that many books touch on that. Well, there were good and bad things about this book, but I don’t think it was for me.
OLIVE by Emma Gannon
The debut novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author, Emma Gannon.
‘Thoughtful, searching, funny, and (most importantly) honest’ Elizabeth Gilbert
‘Brilliantly observed’ Sophie Kinsella
‘It’ll give a voice to countless women’ Marian Keyes
‘Utterly distinctive’ Emma Jane Unsworth
OLIVE is many things.
She knows her own mind.
And it’s ok that she’s still figuring it all out, navigating her world without a compass. But life comes with expectations, there are choices to be made and – sometimes – stereotypes to fulfil. So when her best friends’ lives branch away towards marriage and motherhood, leaving the path they’ve always followed together, she starts to question her choices – because life according to Olive looks a little bit different.
Moving, memorable and a mirror for anyone at a crossroads, OLIVE has a little bit of all of us. Told with great warmth and nostalgia, this is a modern tale about the obstacle course of adulthood, milestone decisions and the ‘taboo’ about choosing not to have children.
About the author:
Emma Gannon is an author, award-winning podcaster, speaker, and columnist who was named one of Forbes UK’s “30 under 30” in 2018. She is the former social media editor of British Glamour and has been published everywhere from the Times (UK) to Teen Vogue. Her popular interview podcast, Ctrl Alt Delete, where she discusses work, culture, and careers with interesting people from all walks of life, has been nominated for a Webby Award and has been recommended by Wired, Esquire, Elle, Red, Marie Claire, and many more. This is her second book. She lives in London.
I thank NetGalley and Harper Collins for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
I’ll try to be brief, as I think my review won’t be very relevant to a lot of people, because I am not a big reader of chick-lit, and I have no previous knowledge of the author, who is better known for her work as a podcaster, writer and editor in magazines, and non-fiction. I am sure both, fans of this genre and of the author, will enjoy the novel.
This is a novel that reminded me of Sex and the City (there are four female friends whose lives have taken different directions but remain close) although set in London and more modest (and they are not as obsessed with shopping), and Bridget Jones’s Diary (yes, the London setting works well, and the many disasters the main character gets involved in also resonate). We have the four friends, who’ve known each other since they were children and shared an apartment in London while at university. We have a writer, writing for an online magazine (like the author of the book), a lawyer, an artist, and a therapist. The main events of the book take place at a particular point in their lives, and it is told, in the first person, through Olive’s (Olivia but she hates her name and most people call her Ol) point of view. Olive is at a point of crisis, as her long-term relationship (nine years) with Jacob has come to an end. He wanted to have children, and she didn’t, and that became a deal-breaker in the end. Olive is not the only one going through a crisis, and the rest of the women in the book are too. These crises centre on the issue of having or not having children (mostly) and how that can change a woman’s life. One of the friends is about to have a baby; one already has three kids and her relationship is not quite as good as it seems; one is desperately trying to get pregnant (on her second round of IVF), and then there is Olive. The story moves chronologically forward, but there are also interspersed fragments of the past (the year is clearly indicated) that helps give us some background into the friends’ experiences together and how things have changed with time and their altered circumstances.
What I liked about the book: I enjoyed the London references (not long descriptions but rather a feel for the locations and the atmosphere), the British-speech (especially the colloquialisms), the quotes from random women on the issue of being child-free at the end of each chapter, and some of the side characters (Olive’s old neighbour, Olive’s sister, and Colin, a colleague, were among my favourites). I also enjoyed the insights into the workings of an online magazine (it’s evident the author knows what she is writing about), and some of the interactions between the friends (although for me, those set early on in their relationship and the ones where Olive is with only one of her friends worked better than the big events or the four women’s reunions). I also liked the final section of the book, around the last 10%, when Olive seems to finally grow up and gain some true insight into her situation and understanding of others’ circumstances and is no longer so self-absorbed.
What I disliked about the book: I am not sure how much I liked any of the main characters. I didn’t dislike them either, and I sympathised with some of them (especially Isla, although I can’t say I’ve ever felt like her), but they were as expected. Nothing particularly original, distinctive, or diverse about them. Upper to middle middle-class women, with no particular financial difficulties, fairly successful in their careers, whose only issues seemed to be their preoccupation with having children or not (and their relationship with their partners, but to a far lesser extent) and the fact that their friendship seemed to be deteriorating due to other aspects of their lives. I am not saying this is not important, but… I was intrigued by the main topic, which is something not often discussed, but I am not sure the humorous tone of the book served it well. I felt at times frustrated by how slowly time seemed to move (Olive is set to attend a club meeting for child-free women early on in the novel, and it seems to take forever for that day to arrive), and I realised that it was in part because of the inserts of past episodes, and in part because the central character has not changed at all in her outlook or behaviour through the years. As I have said, this changes towards the end of the book, and I felt that made the book feel more realistic and interesting, but it was a bit too little too late for me.
In sum, this is a light read about a serious topic that is not usually discussed in this genre. I recommend it to lovers of chick-lit, especially if they enjoy a London setting, and to readers who follow the author. Although the final message is a positive one, I think women struggling with the issue of childbearing might find some of the content upsetting, and they should approach it with some caution.
I wonder if I might have enjoyed this book more, or found it more helpful, when I was younger, but we all change.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for the copy of the book, thanks to the writer, and especially thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep smiling, and above all, keep safe.