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‘Olive’ book review: A unique story that could’ve been a masterpiece

‘Olive’ book review: A unique story that could’ve been a masterpiece

I’ve once been scolded by a relative for saying I didn’t want children, at least not yet. She told me I was not doing ‘what I was meant to do’ and depriving my parents of the right to be grandparents. She said children would complete me, and that not having them was out of the question. I shouldn’t even be thinking such horrid thoughts.

Fast forward a few years and a miscarriage later, I still don’t have a strong maternal urge to have children. If it happens, fine, but I don’t think I will feel empty and incomplete if I don’t. In our society, having children is made out to be such a natural progression of life that you are almost looked down on if you aren’t pregnant within a couple of years of marriage.

But what’s also true is that many women are choosing to have children later in life—in their 30s and even 40s—or at least wait a few years after getting married. They want to be financially secure before being responsible for a baby. Some want to focus on their careers for a while. They believe having a baby will slow their progress and shift their priorities and they don’t want that at the moment. I also have a couple of friends who don’t want children. While all this is normal, our society doesn’t think so and women who deviate from the norm are considered misfits and lectured.

Emma Gannon’s debut novel ‘Olive’ explores this very theme. The protagonist, Olive, doesn’t want to have children. She’s never wanted them and now that she’s in her 30s she’s even more certain of it. Her best friends are having babies or trying to conceive but “that doesn’t make her ovaries twitch”. She breakups with her boyfriend of nine years when he suggests they might want to start a family. But she feels her friends—Cecily, Bea, and Isla—are moving on without her. They are no longer as accessible as they were before they were parents or were trying for a pregnancy.

Olive is a thought-provoking read that explores motherhood, fertility, female friendships, relationships, and what it means to be true to yourself when everyone around you wants you to conform. I just wish Gannon had been a little more empathetic in her writing. Very often the characters come across as selfish and annoying. Some topics like veganism and infidelity are discussed so lightly that the tone is almost mocking. Something feels a little off but the story isn’t one that you come across regularly so you might want to overlook the little niggles.



Emma Gannon

Published: 2020

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 409, Paperback