Book Review

Review: Olive by Emma Gannon

When I started this book, I worried that it and I just weren’t going to get along. Despite being 30+, and going through some stuff, Olive can come across as immature and self-centred. And the opening scene, with four giddy girls leaving university and dramatically screaming and sobbing all over each other did not sit well with me. However, thankfully, there was a lot more going on in these pages, which managed, in a non-judgemental way, to raise good questions about having children and whether you even need an obvious reason if you don’t.

Title: OliveOlive
Author: Emma Gannon
Pages: 416
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 25th June 2020
Ownership: e-ARC

Rating: 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars

Olive knows her own mind. She has three best friends who love and support each other, a nice flat, a good job that she loves and her time is her own. She also doesn’t want children, which isn’t a decision she’s just come to, it’s just something she knows. Unfortunately that knowledge has caused the breakdown of a ten year relationship and now she needs her friends’ help more than ever. But her friends have their own problems that are taking over their own lives, making it harder than ever for these women to support each other.

So, after that opener, I thought I would have some problems with this book. And there were times when I was quite frustrated by it – some good therapy, or even just hearing what each other was saying would have sorted a lot out.

But there are a number of important messages here for all women (however, if you are looking for diversity in your reading, you won’t find it here …).

Although this is a book about one woman navigating in her own head that she doesn’t want children (which doesn’t necessarily require a ‘why’),  and that the decision to not want children can affect your relationships, friendship and how other people perceive you.

But this story was also about an established mother dealing with her own family, a new mother struggling and a woman desperate to be a mother.

And, for once, in this style of feminist rom com/women’s literature (both terrible category titles that don’t quite cover this) all of those friends actually had backstory, voice and motivation and required support of their own – finally the best friend group didn’t just feel like side characters that revolve around the MC’s all-important self discoveries!

There were inconsistencies within that though – Olive can’t relate to their problems, so she doesn’t always hear them, or know how to support her friends, although that goes both ways. And, at times, with their different jobs and outcomes, this feels like a reimagined British Sex and the City (for grown ups).

The narrative is also a little bit jumpy at times – it’s not always clear how quickly these events are taking place (days, months, weeks?) and the jumping between 2008-2018 and 21019 doesn’t always add a huge amount to the story except context. I’m also not clear on whether Olive is actually writing articles about women not wanting children – she goes to events as research, but it’s never explicitly said that she has written articles on this, until her friend Isla calls her out for it. And, although there are plenty of fun pop culture references, a lot of these fill a little clumsy and awkward – like naming the song and the artist, because details?

Although there is an awful lot of crying, and everyone could do with a good therapist – especially Olive – there is also a lot of moving on, of trying new things and developing as a person, which makes the ending (the Prologue), a really nice way of rounding the story off. It’s not all about happy endings, but it is about the strength of friendships.

There is also a really important message in all of this – that you don’t have to know 100% what you want, or why you want it – but all of the decisions you make will get you to where you want to be, as long as they are your own authentic choices.

As a woman who knows she wants children, at times this book ended up making me want them more – a lot of the reasons women give for not wanting children are reasons have the opposite affect on me.

HOWEVER, for someone who doesn’t want children, or just doesn’t know yet, I think this book has the potential to be very empowering and deals with a number of issues around families, child-free and fertility in a good way – it’s not all one-sided, or hammering home an agenda – it’s about being able to make a judgement-free choice for yourself.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.



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