Olive by Emma Gannon

I have been looking forward to reading Olive by Emma Gannon for a very long time. I’ve been a fan of Emma’s since reading her non-fiction book The Multi-Hyphen Method, about how to make the most of being a freelancer with multiple income streams and employment avenues. I also read her long-form essay Sabotage, in which she tackles the topics of self-sabotage and imposter syndrome.

Olive is Emma’s first novel, and will be hitting shelves in June 2020. I was gifted a proof copy by HarperCollins and have been able to read it in advance.

Olive is 33 and doesn’t think she wants to have children. That said, all around her, her friends are having babies, rearing young families or trying to get pregnant. She’s recently split up with her long-term boyfriend because of their different opinions on having a family. Now she feels like an outsider in her friendship group, and that she might be getting left behind on life’s big milestones.

The story follows the complexities of her relationships with her three best friends – Bea, Cecily and Isla. Bea is mum to three children, Cecily is a new first-time mum, and Isla is going through IVF. As Olive begins to explore her feelings around not wanting a family, frictions arise within their group that threaten to tear it apart.

Being 33 myself, I found a lot of resonance with what Emma is tackling in Olive. I am grateful to her for writing about the decision not to have children, as it is rarely explored in pop-culture and fiction. What she also demonstrates brilliantly through the four women in the novel, is that everyone has their own sh!t going on. None of their lives are perfect. They are each going through something personal that is threatening their sense of normality, and the idea of what it means to be a wife, partner, daughter, friend or mother.

Although Olive is the main character, Bea, Cec and Isla are fully fleshed-out side characters. They are each the centre of their own worlds, which is exactly what good characters should be. They are not just self-serving plot devices, but demonstrate the ebb, flow and delicate nuances of female friendships which function as a group and in individual pairs.

At a time when my focus has been completely thrown off by the distressing escalation of Covid-19, Olive has been a wonderful comfort read. This is a book I can already see myself buying for some of my female friends, feeling in a similar position with their life choices.