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Olive by Emma Gannon | Book Review

I devoured this warm hug of a book over one weekend. It's a light read yet nuanced too - sensitively exploring a woman's decision to be child-free.

We meet Olive in her early 30s as she's lacking the maternal urges she presumed she'd have by this age, feeling that actually - maybe she doesn't want children. Through flitting between the past and present we get to know her and her group of friends, seeing their lives change through the decisions they make and how this impacts their relationships.

I think so many women will see themselves in this book. I could definitely connect to that feeling of being "behind" and separate - the description of Olive being with a group of mothers feeling outside their bond and with nothing to contribute to the conversation is so perfect. We don't see characters like Olive in books or media and it's a breath of fresh air to have her here - it will mean a lot to many I'm sure.

Olive's is not the only perspective to relate to though - each of her friends have a different relationship to motherhood and family - with one friend struggling to conceive through IVF, another with older children but a struggling marriage and a new mother navigating pregnancy and then life with a baby. Empathy is cultivated for each character, poignantly highlighting the struggles that aren't always seen or understood and yet how easy it is to be jealous without knowing this. While the friendships are strong it doesn't shy away from showing how maintaining connection through such huge life changes can be challenging, and the ways we can miss each other when communicating. I loved how this friendship group feel like the heart of the novel too, over any romantic narratives.

It was interesting to read this straight after Cho Nam-Joo's Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 which depicts a typical Korean woman's life and the resentment and mental distress that can build from a lifetime of small and large oppressions and misogyny. In Olive, instead, we see a lighter and more optimistic take: what's possible when a woman strays from the well-trodden path laid by centuries of women before her. While there is struggle and sacrifice in getting there, through Olive we ultimately see the relief, freedom and feeling of content that can come from letting yourself choose the life you want.

Release date - 23rd July. Available for pre-order now (really helpful to authors and a treat for your future-self!)

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the ARC.