Olive is Emma Gannon’s fiction debut. I know of her through her podcast Ctrl, Alt Delete and from her non-fiction books, including The Multi-Hyphen Method, so I was excited to see what her first novel would be like.
Opening sentence: I am the same age as my mother when she had me.
Child-free by choice
Olive is a contemporary read that focuses on friendships, women’s fertility and how they’re linked. I think that (due to biology) women are almost programmed to make a life-changing decision (to have children or not) in their thirties, whether they are ready for it or not. This puts a lot of undue pressure on a lot of women. It’s great and interesting to see this theme explored in a novel. This is a topic very close to Emma’s heart; she wrote in Grazia about her own personal decision to be child-free by choice.
I have always assumed I would have children, it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t. More than that: I wanted to have them. This makes me the opposite of author Emma and Olive Stone, our eponymous lead character who is in her early 30s and doesn’t want to have children. But, while I might not directly relate to Olive, I am intrigued to hear what she has to say.
Let’s meet Olive
She lives in London, loves her job as a writer and editor at .dot – an online feminist magazine (this element reminded of Jenny from Adults) and has absolutely no maternal urges at all. She has a full, satisfied life and is fine with her decision. She just wishes everyone else was too.
I just feel like everyone’s always so surprised when I say I don’t think I want kids. Like they’re sad for me.
Through the lives of Olive and her three close friends, many areas of fertility are discussed in the story: Bea had 3 children in her 20s, Cecily is a new mum in her 30s and feeling the pressure, while Isla is going through IVF in an attempt to have a longed-for baby.
The story explores the friendship of these four childhood chums; how things naturally dissipate when life and – yes – children come into the equation. Parts of the story did remind of my own uni friendships and the importance of making time for friends.
Baby Not on Board
There was a rogue plot point that did irk me – Olive orders a ‘Baby on Board’ badge (for pregnant women to wear on transport so they can get a seat) then for reasons not explained, she proceeds to wear it ‘accidentally’ to get seats on buses. Having been a pregnant commuter who struggled to get seats (I even had to get off trains a few times as I thought I was going to pass out due to lack of a seat) this behaviour just wound me up!
I enjoyed reading Olive; it’s refreshing to read a contemporary novel about women in their 30s that covers many angles of the fertility spectrum. It was also interesting to read about motherhood from Olive’s POV BUT I would argue that women choosing to not have children is not as rare or ostracised as Olive thinks. I have friends who have chosen to not have children, so I’m sure Olive will pop up in my conversations with them.