Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf: Holt’s last hurrah

Our Souls at Night For those of us who’ve come to know and love Kent Haruf’s quietly brilliant novels set in the small town of Holt, Colorado, news of a new one is cause for celebration but this time the joy is muted. Haruf died last year and this is his last book. His insightful writing is clean and simple, stripped of ornament and all the more powerful for it. This last novel feels like a fitting end to the series: a beautiful, tender meditation on ageing and the joy it can sometimes bring along with sorrow.

Both widowed and in their seventies, Louis Waters and Addie Moore have lived on the same block for many years although they barely know each other. One day, tired of long, lonely nights, Addie knocks on Louis’ door and puts a proposition to him: she wants him to spend his nights in her bed. Somewhat taken aback, Louis ponders her proposal then decides to take her up on it. Packing his pyjamas and his toothbrush in a paper bag, he approaches Addie’s back door but Addie wants none of that. Tired of living her life by other people’s rules, she wants things out in the open. Tongues are soon wagging but Addie and Louis bat away the tittle-tattle: what they’ve discovered is too precious for small-town gossips to ruin. When Addie’s six-year-old grandson comes to stay, his parents in the midst of splitting up, the threesome go on day trips together but while the gossips can be ignored the concerns of grown up, resentful children cannot.

As Addie and Louis tell their stories, holding hands in the dark, we learn that neither of their lives has been quite what they’d hoped or expected them to be: tragedy, infidelity and loneliness have marked their marriages. Louis had wanted to be a poet but had settled for teaching the town’s children; Addie had thought to be a teacher but had become a secretary. Both have quietly got on with their disappointments. The tender intimacy they share now is as wholly unexpected as Addie’s approach had been to Louis. Both characters are beautifully drawn as is their eighty-two-year-old neighbour Ruth who labels the town’s gossips ‘small-town small-minded pissants’ making you want to clap your hands in applause. It’s a lovely book. You can feel filled with regret that such quiet happiness has come to Addie and Louis so late in life, or you can delight in them finding it at all when many people never do. I know which route they’d take. If you haven’t yet read Haruf get yourself down to a bookshop as soon as you can: his novels are absolute gems, the sort you’ll find yourself returning to again and again.

19 thoughts on “Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf: Holt’s last hurrah”

  1. I so loved this book too . It is word perfect …almost a poem in prose . And you’re right, the fact that his style is so clean and spare makes it all the more powerful. Truly beautiful

    1. Susan Osborne

      Spot on with you ‘poem in prose’ comment, Helen. It’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. Makes me want to go back and read all the Holt novels again.

  2. Lovely review, Susan. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one – it’ll be on my shopping list once the paperback comes out. There’s something very special about Haruf’s prose style…it’s hard to put into words.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Thanks, Jacqui. One of my favourite authors so my expectations were high but fulfilled, even surpassed. Not one word wasted. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  3. I haven’t read any of this series but I have read a lot of glowing reviews. He is definitely on my list. I’m so sorry to think there won’t be any more from him, but I’m looking forward to catching up with the novels he has left behind.

    1. Susan Osborne

      I’m sure you’ll like them, Victoria. He writes about ordinary life with such grace and insight.

  4. Well this post prompted me to go and look out Plainsong – AGAIN. As someone said this morning on another blog ‘You know you really love a book when it becomes comfort reading’ Haruf is very much like that for me. I’ve returned to him many times.

  5. Also have been meaning to say – your blog lands in my inbox each morning just as I’m sitting down at my desk. It’s perfect timing as I can get another cup of coffee to read it with – and avoid actually starting work for another few minutes.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Good timing, then! And pleased to hear that you’re a Haruf fan, Kerry. Few books find their way onto my bookshelves these days but this one will without a doubt.

  6. I so glad you’ve reviewed this. A friend recommended Haruf to me about six months ago and I had completely forgotten about it. You have reminded me and I have put him straight onto the library list. Thank you.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Delighted to have reminded you, Alex. He’s one of my favourite writers and if you’ve not yet read the Holt novels you’ve a treat in store.

  7. I enjoyed this book as well. The prose is beautiful, and I love how the dialogue between Addie and Louis reveals so much more about them than is actually said. It’s all very skillfully done.

    1. Susan Osborne

      Isn’t just? I’m hard pressed to think of any writer quite so accomplished in that spare, beautiful style

  8. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer #1 - Why have I never read Kent Haruf before? - Annabookbel

  9. Pingback: Books of the Year 2015: Part 3 | A Life In Books

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