Monday November 20, 2017

If you liked Olive Kitteridge, you should read the Canadian novel Ellen in Pieces

Angie Abdou is a Canadian novelist and a columnist for The Next Chapter. Her books include The Bone Cage and Between.

Angie Abdou is a Canadian novelist and a columnist for The Next Chapter. Her books include The Bone Cage and Between. (Arsenal Pulp Press/Decoro Portrait Photography)

Listen 10:39

Olive Kitteridge by American author Elizabeth Strout won the 2009 Pultizer Prize for fiction and was adapted into an HBO miniseries starring Frances McDormand. The story is set in Maine and follows Olive — a fascinating and often grumpy retired school teacher, who has trouble adapting to the changes in her town and family.

Angie Abdou says if you enjoyed Olive KitteridgeEllen in Pieces by Caroline Adderson will make the perfect Canadian companion to Strout's award-winning book.

Nobody is perfect 

"One of my pet peeves is when readers call a character unlikable. What does that mean? Do you classify humans as likable and unlikable? That's so simplistic. I think characters should all be flawed, as all humans are. I guess that's the thing about Olive Kitteridge — I empathize so deeply with her, despite her flaws. 

"She's a retired schoolteacher near the end of her life, but her son has left and her marriage doesn't have a lot of energy in it. We have an idea that her son — her only son who she loves so much — has abandoned her, but as [the book] goes on, we get her son's perspective that maybe she wasn't the best mother. Maybe she was even a little bit abusive. She seems to have some pretty nasty lows. But we learn to love her anyway. It's interesting that Elizabeth Strout pulls that off." 

From one flawed character to the next

"Anger is one of Ellen's challenges in Ellen in Pieces. She says herself that anger is her first response to anything. She often acts in a way that she shouldn't at first. Sometimes she feels love as anger. She feels passion as anger. She feels sadness as anger. She's just very angry."

Why you'll love Ellen in Pieces too

"[Readers] are let inside in that same way that we are with Olive Kittridge. We're let into Ellen's jealousies, regrets, disappointments and her self-loathing — all of those negative emotions that we don't tend to share as humans. I think being privy to those very secret private feelings makes the happiness, joy and laughter in other parts feel more real as well. Ellen is so complex, layered and full. Carolyn Adderson really brings this character to life."

Angie Abdou's comments have been edited and condensed.