Sunday, 23 October 2016

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

179 Pages
Bookclub read

The blurb:

This is a love story. 
A story about growing old with grace.
Addie Moore and Louis Waters have been neighbours for years. Now they both live alone, their houses empty of family, their quiet nights solitary. Then one evening Addie pays Louis a visit.
Their brave adventures form the beating heart of Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf's exquisite final novel.

My thoughts:

This book was quite a reading experience for me. For starters, I didn’t realise how much I depend on quotation marks when I read, until they weren’t there. I got used to it, but the first few pages I kept on going back in confusion, wondering whether or not I’d just read spoken word.

I’m listening, Louis said.
I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.
What? How do you mean?
I mean we’re both alone. We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.

Confusing or not, it does make for an intriguing and thought-provoking start to what turned out to be a deeply touching story.

It is such a simple idea: ‘getting through the night together. And lying warm in bed, companionably.’  Because the nights are the worst. Because sometimes being alone is too much like hard work, too lonely. And also because the fact that you’ve reached the age of 70 doesn’t have to mean your life is over.

There’s a wonderful and refreshing honesty to the way these two characters talk to each other. At times if almost feel blunt, yet it isn’t. They don’t have time for all the pretty words without meaning anymore, and get to the core of what they feel and think with meaning to give offence or taking it that way.

Sentences and chapters are short, the story is told in few words. Which means that every words has to count, and it does. Without any detailed or spun out background information we get a clear idea about Louis and Addie, their lives before they started spending their nights together and the world they live in. I suspect that in the hands of almost any other author the scarcity of the words and details would have left me yearning for more. In this book it felt right. This story didn’t need elaboration any more than the conversations Addie and Louis have together did.

That’s the main point of this being a good time. Getting to know somebody well at this age. And finding out you like her and discovering you’re not just all dried up after all. – Louis

I love how they almost got to be a family for a while when Addie’s grandson Jamie comes to stay with her for most of the summer. When they get a dog for the six-year-old boy who is not dealing with his parent’s separation very well, it felt even more as if they were living an experience they’d had individually but would have been unlikely to have together under any other circumstances.

In one of their conversations, Louis and Addie discuss three books ‘someone’ has written about Holt—the town where they live—and discuss whether they themselves would like to be in a book by the author who wrote them. The subterfuge made me smile because they are of course talking about Benediction, Eventide and Plainsong by, who else, Kent Haruf.

At some point in the book Addie says: It’s a hopeful thing, isn’t it. And that is the reason most of this book resonated with me. It ties into to my favourite (George Eliot) quote ‘It’s never too late to be what you might have been.’ It is the idea that if we open ourselves up to the world around us and the people in it, there are always new opportunities, new avenues to explore. That is an attitude towards life I can get fully behind.

Which brings me to my one, big, ‘but’. I didn’t like the ending. It may be realistic (although I’m not even fully convinced about that) but it wasn’t good for me. It felt like the characters (or the author) lost their courage. I understood the motives but I didn’t like how it played out. Addie and Louis’s courage deserved so much more than the ending they got. In the last few chapters what had been a 5+, extra special read for me, turned into a very solid 4. However, don’t allow that personal sentiment to stop you from reading this book. For the most it is a hopeful, inspired and wonderful story about living your life to the full, regardless of your age, and embracing opportunities when they come your way.

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