I saw Olive floating around book Twitter for a while and will admit to completely falling for the cover and being more drawn in by that than anything else. I guess sometimes I really do judge a book by it’s cover and so huge credit to the cover designer of Olive. However, once I started reading the novel I was immediately captivated.
Olive centres a group of four female friends who have known each other since childhood but are now in their mid-thirties, and three of them are either mothers or are on the journey to becoming mothers. This leaves the titular character, Olive, feeling isolated as a result her recent conclusion that she did not want to have children and the subsequent end to her relationship with her partner of 9 years.
By comparison, of Olive’s closest frinds, one is married with three young children, one is married and about to give birth to her first child and one is suffering from endometriosis and going through the rigorous process of IVF treatment.
As someone who has very mixed feelings around the prospect of motherhood and the process of becoming a parent, I really enjoyed this book because it considered aspects of the choice to not have children that I had not previously considered. As a 21-year-old the decision of whether to become a mother is purely a personal one that I have a lot of time to consider and don’t need to worry about for the next 10 years. However, I had never thought about the aspect of not choosing to have children that would differentiate you from those in your life who do choose to have them.
This is brilliantly dealt with in the book because at no point do you feel like any of the characters have done anything wrong. Each character is dealing with vastly different issues in their personal lives that make it very difficult for them to relate to each other. Olive is going through an incredibly difficult break up and struggling with the choice not to have children and just wants to talk to her friends about it but it’s impossible to talk about not wanting children with a friend who is desperately trying to have kids and in the midst of invasive IVF treatment.
The main conflict of the book is found in Olive’s friends finding her self-centred and overly focussed on the idea that having children is simply terrible (which is obviously not what you want to hear if you have kids). However, because we read the book from Olive’s perspective, and likely because I am somewhat sympathetic to Olive’s feelings towards motherhood, I did not find her either selfish or too critical . I think that the style of writing plays a role in achieving this as we spend a lot of time reading about Olive’s thoughts, with less time on interations between her and her friends, who are currently very busy with children, and only a minimal sense for how the dynamic between them has changed. This leads us to sympathise with all the characters, and simply highlights the difficulty of your life diverging from those of your friends rather than making any comment on whether or not a person ought to have children.
Overall, I would consider this an excellent novel for any young person wrestling with the question of whether to have children or facing the prospect of their life diverging from those of their friends and would definitely recommend it. This is an enjoyable book which makes for a fairly easy read that you can’t put down.