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Book Review: Olive by Emma Gannon

‘You know what gets to me? The knowing, smug smirk that so often accompanies the words: “You’ll change your mind.”’

‘I always compare the cost of a year’s worth of nappies to how much travelling I could do instead’.

People have started to look at me with pity. Society really wants us to get married, have two children and move to a house with a driveway still. I’m more likely to go live abroad and travel more’.

Hands up who can relate to any of the above!

Olive by Emma Gannon is a book that really struck a chord with me. It deals with the BIGGEST question any of us will face in our lives, whether or not to have children and Olive has started to think that actually, it might not be for her.

It’s a story that mainly follows Olive’s perspective, but it explores womanhood and motherhood in many different forms, mainly through her closest friends Bea, Cecily and Isla, we get to know them in the present day and through flashbacks.

Bea has three children, but her marriage is failing, and her husband’s gone and got a younger model.

Cecily has built a successful career as a solicitor and is expecting her first child, she’s struggling with pregnancy and struggles with the sense of losing herself when Oscar arrives.

Isla is struggling to get pregnant and having a third round of IVF. 

Among all this, the children question has led to Olive breaking up with her boyfriend and feeling left behind when it comes to her friends. They all look at each other’s lives and compare what they have (Olive more so than anyone) they all learn that nothing is ever as it seems, and the grass isn’t always greener.

It looks at how friendships and relationships change as we get older and we start to follow different paths. The love and loyalty is always there despite bumps in the road as they all have to learn to accept each other’s decisions. It was a friendship group that reminded me of my own in many ways, we all make different choices, we’re all very different people, with different lives, dealing with different problems but the love and loyalty remains.

We don’t see women like Olive portrayed that often, it feels like her decision is something that is treated with suspicion, it’s almost unnatural for her to admit that she has no maternal instinct, something she comes up against quite regularly:

“I feel sick at the judgment that people have towards women like Ariana. It still feels like such a dirty topic, a dirty confession” Emma Gannon

This book navigates the expectations placed on women, the boxes that others want us to tick and the path society expects us to follow.

That expectation is still there, we can say times have changed, we’ve much more choice but as a woman in my thirties I can say other people have been OBSESSED with my womb and its workings.

Can we please stop asking women when they’re having children? It is really rude, personal and you don’t know what’s happening.

It might be a woman who’s just had a miscarriage.

It might be a woman whose partner doesn’t want children.

It might be a woman who has fertility problems.

It might be a couple who only want one child or can only afford one child.

It might be a woman who’s suffered post-natal depression and the last thing she’s thinking about is sprog number two.

It might be a woman who’s decided to put her career first.

It might be a woman who just doesn’t want children.

Whatever the reason for her being child free, it’s none of your damn business unless she decides to tell you. Until that point, shut up.

If it’s the final point on that list, you have no right to question that decision, just as no one has a right to question the choice to have kids.

I’ve in the past taken to making people feel really uncomfortable, I’ll not apologise for that, they made me feel uncomfortable first. I’ll never understand why people (and usually it’s those you don’t know that well) think it’s acceptable to pass comment or ask you about children. 

The decision to have children or not, isn’t an easy one (that should go without saying). What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily the right choice for someone else but when it comes to the child-free by choice it seems as a society we still struggle to get our heads around that.

A woman admitting that she doesn’t want children is seen as selfish, hard-nosed, career obsessed, unnatural, as someone who hates children – I could go on.

There’s still the idea that you don’t achieve anything unless you procreate, while the survival of the human race is a pretty big deal, we don’t all have to do it and the impact we have on the world is about more than having children, it’s what we do while we’re here:

“Leaving something behind isn’t just about having a child who will roam the earth after you’ve gone. A legacy is made up of everything you’ve ever done. It’s everything you leave behind. It’s every choice you make. It’s every person you meet. It’s every feeling you’ve passed on. It’s every story you tell”. Emma Gannon

I hope this book makes other women feel heard, that it shows them they aren’t failures if they can’t or don’t want children. That it’s okay to struggle with motherhood. That it’s okay to have an only child or an entire football team. That whatever your life choices are, it has nothing to do with your Great Auntie Joan or that lass you haven’t spoken to since school.

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

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