I hardly read anything during lockdown. I found I couldn’t concentrate as the world closed in, work became more and more intense and the virus took over. I spent hours staring at the BBC online live page, agog at the latest developments as Covid came closer and closer to the UK, the streets emptied out, cities looked abandoned and death rates climbed. But 5 months later, I am devouring novels again, a welcome escape from it all. And these 3 by Elizabeth Strout are wonderful. The Olive Kitteridge books are about a woman in the later stages of life living in Maine. She’s a retired school teacher married to the long suffering Henry. She is prickly and blunt, brutally honest about other people and what she thinks. The first book is really a collection of stories about people living in her community with Olive as the central thread. The sequel is more about Olive herself. Both books reflect on ageing, families, broken relationships, family secrets, long marriages, friendships and becoming frail. They are beautifully observed, I gasped out loud and laughed out loud in equal measure.
The other book My Name Is Lucy Barton is so good I read it in 3 hours. A woman with young children, estranged from her parents, wakes up in hospital to find her mother at the end of the bed. She hasn’t seen her for years. Over 5 days her life unfolds revealing unspoken truths about her life – motherhood, marriage, parental bonds, empty nesters. Again so sharply observed, I gasped at times. What a beautiful writer Strout is.