20 books of summer (2017), Author, Book review, Fiction, Kent Haruf, literary fiction, Picador, Publisher, Setting, USA

‘Our Souls at Night’ by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haru

Fiction – paperback; Picador; 180 pages; 2016.

If you have followed this blog for a while you will no doubt know that I am a Kent Haruf fan — indeed, he’s listed on my favourite authors page — but it was with some trepidation that I picked up his novel All Souls at Night. That’s because Haruf died shortly before its publication (aged 71 in November 2014) and it felt too sad to read, knowing it was his final novel.

As it turns out, the story it tells is as bittersweet as the circumstances in which I read it.

A simple tale well told

Our Souls at Night is a wise and simple tale about growing older, the importance of doing your own thing and the value of companionship.

It goes something like this: in Holt, Colorado (the same location used in all Haruf’s novels), an old lady (widow Addie Moore) invites an old man (her widowed neighbour, Louis Waters) to come sleep with her, but not in that way. The pair break with small-town social conventions and spend their nights sleeping in the same bed to ward off loneliness.

What ensues is a relaxed, comfortable friendship in which they tell each other about their lives and share their innermost fears and secrets while they lie side by side in bed.

The narrative, mainly composed of dialogue (without the use of quotation marks), allows us to get to know both characters and their troubled pasts. Both have adult children who don’t appreciate or approve of their nightly arrangement, and yet when Addie’s six-year-old grandson comes to live with her it is clear that her relationship with Louis provides the stability young Jamie needs.

Typical Haruf style

The story is written in typical Haruf style with pared-back, almost soporific prose, where every word is chosen as carefully as one might choose the pearls to thread onto a necklace. It is a masterclass in letting nouns and basic verbs do all the work without being ably assisted by adjectives or extraneous detail. This makes for a super fast, uncluttered read.

And yet the novel is strangely powerful and incredibly moving, taking the reader from joy to sorrow to laughter and back again, all within the space of just 180 pages.

For example, when Louis makes the decision to buy a dog to provide companionship to Addie’s grandson, I could feel my heart leaping with the joy of it. Later, I could feel it splintering in two when things begin to go slightly awry. And yet I also laughed a lot while reading this book, not least at the “in-jokes” Haruf includes that readers of his Plainsong trilogy will appreciate:

On a Sunday they sat at the kitchen table over their morning coffee. There was an advertisement in the Post about the coming theatrical season at the Denver Centre for the Performing Arts. Addie said, Did you see they’re going to do that last book about Holt County? The one with the old man dying and the preacher.
They did those other two, so I guess they might as well do this one too, Louis said.
Did you see those earlier ones?
I saw them. But I can’t imagine two old ranchers taking in a pregnant girl.
It might happen, she said. People can do the unexpected.

All Souls at Night is a truly lovely, delicate and eloquent read, bringing to mind the likes of Anne Tyler and many of the Irish prose writers I admire so much.  It is a lasting tribute to a very fine writer indeed.

This is my 4th book for #20booksofsummer. I was actually given a review copy prior to the novel’s publication in June 2015, but somewhere along the line it got misplaced (probably when I put all my non-Australian books in storage prior to my Reading Australia project in 2016), so had to buy my own copy. I can’t recall the exact date, but it’s been in my TBR for less than a year.

28 thoughts on “‘Our Souls at Night’ by Kent Haruf”

    1. It’s such a lovely read, Cathy. It’s not my favourite (I think that goes to Plainsong) but it’s a fitting novel on which to end his career, I think.


  1. It’s sad when you know you’re reading a last novel. There are quite a few Australian writers on my radar who must now be in their 80s and they haven’t had a book out for a while…


  2. I’m so glad you loved this, Kim. I’m not sure if it was the knowledge of his death or the story itself but I found Our Souls at Night the most moving of his novels. Such a fine writer. Your pearl image perfectly catches his precision with words and their poetry.


    1. It’s a writing style that really appeals to me… keep it simple and let the readers figure out how to feel by the actions that the characters carry out… too many writers tell us how we should feel by over-writing and spelling everything out.


  3. I just know I’m going to love his works and so I bought the trilogy which I hope to read first before I read this, I actually bought this as a gift for my Dad and he and his wife both read it and then the trilogy and then they gave this book back to me, I keep seeing the four books on the shelf and wanting to start, but just have to get a few others read first that are more pressing, I have a sense that there’s no rush with indulging this author. Lovely review Kim.


    1. Oh, that’s such a lovely story of your dad and his wife reading this collection and then giving it back to you. These really are books you want to press into people’s hands to share the love. You must read it, Claire, I know you will adore it. He’s a writer who really knows how people tick and he treats his readers with such intelligence.


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