Book Review | Olive by Emma Gannon

Childfree Olive is adrift in a sea of her best friends – and a society – obsessed with motherhood. As she turned into a thirty-something, the questions only became more insistent – talk of shrivelling up eggs and the perils of geriatric motherhood. Olive has never wanted children, and she’s not going to ‘change her mind.’ But she finds it increasingly difficult to navigate this decision and reconcile it with society’s expectations of womanhood and the life choices of her own best friends.

‘When I am an adult, I would think, everything will be good. I will finally be free. Adulthood = freedom.’

It is the tight-knit bonds of friendship, rather than romance, that are at the heart of the book. Emma Gannon explores the exuberance of female friendship, with flashbacks to their heady university days and teenagerhood, contrasted with their early thirties and how their life paths have diverged. Their sacred rituals – dinner at the same London restaurant every month, a holiday abroad each year – are slowly slipping away from them.

‘Everyone has just seemed slightly less available, a creeping sense of business and life admin and to-do lists, of time being squeezed.’

Despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, Olive is an easy and accessible read, with levity, humour, and self-awareness.

‘I’ve decided to go and see a Reiki healer because I am a Millennial cliché with a free afternoon.’

Although plot elements are at times predictable and a little hackneyed, the strength of the novel lies in portraying nuanced protagonists who each have their own struggles when it comes to motherhood – be that infertility, post-natal depression, juggling three children or having no desire to have kids – and explores these choices in an open and honest way. Gannon draws sympathetic characters and lets us into their heads. It’s a perspective I’ve not read about before in such a clear-eyed way, and I think this will resonate with many women at a similar crossroads in their life.

With thanks to the publisher for an advanced copy. Olive will be published by HarperCollins UK in July 2020.



Read if you enjoyed: Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams, The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary , Ghosted by Rosie Walsh