Where Ideas Grow

A blog for students of creative writing at York St John University

Book Review: Olive

By Cassie Harrison

“Society rewards couples so much. Life is just so much easier in a couple. Cheaper, easier, more logical: take couple-discounted train tickets for example, or splitting bills, or tax benefits!”

Emma Gannon


ISBN: 9780008382728

Author: Emma Gannon 

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication date: June 2020

Page count: 410

Plot Summary

Olive tells the story of a thirty-something female protagonist, who deviates from the expectations of society. As Olive’s best friends throw themselves into marriage and parenthood, Olive is a bystander. While she strives for independence and her pursuit of personal fulfilment, she is hindered by pressures to conform- alongside her own apprehension. This novel offers an honest and contemporary view of womanhood, with themes of friendship and childlessness at its core. Every adult will be able to relate to Olive in some way.


  1. I admire how this novel tackles the ‘taboo’ topic of optional childlessness in a warm, understanding and light-hearted way. 
  2. The themes of the novel can often be applied universally. For example, Gannon’s insightful reflections on decision making –  ‘…no decision is ever really the wrong decision. Because it’s the decision you made at the time. Respect your past self and her choices.’ 
  3. The novel offers realistic representations of various paths that women can take in adulthood. It also exemplifies that things are not always as perfect as they seem, by revealing the unique struggles of each character, at different points throughout the story. 
  4. Some people think Olive is rude and selfish, particularly towards her friends. I think that even a hero cannot be flawless. I’m here for their progression. The novel certainly emphasises the trials and tribulations of friendship, but also the power of sisterhood. 
  5. Gannon defines the specifics of my own reality in a way that I could only dream of doing. For example, ‘I think I am in that rare and temporary point in life where I am an ‘old young person’ and a ‘young old person’. I’m bang in the middle: young enough to be cool, old enough to have some experience of how shit life can be.’ 

Critical Reception: 

  •  ‘It’ll give a voice to countless women . . . a profound issue wrapped inside an accessible, highly engaging novel’ – Marian Keyes
  • ‘Emma Gannon’s debut novel cut right to the heart of conversations around women and the stereotypes we either adhere to – or reject.’ – Cosmopolitan 
  • ‘This tale of four young women trying to sort out the dilemmas of motherhood … will bring relief and recognition to many. It’s a lovely book – thoughtful, searching, funny, and (most importantly) honest’ – Elizabeth Gilbert

Recommendation: 9/10

I recommended this to a friend – who is a non-reader – and she couldn’t put it down. I knew she wouldn’t be able to resist the warm relatability and light-hearted inspiration that pervades Olive.

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