Many of Australians’ favourite books of all times, according to the Dymocks 101 list are familiar. Unsurprisingly, there was Harry Potter and The Handmaid’s Tale, alongside more recent bestsellers like The Dry and The Book Thief. George Orwell made two appearances, while Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkien and Charlotte Bronte were other literary giants on the list.
But there, perching just under Animal Farm, was Our Souls at Night at number 55. And this quiet, unassuming, but deeply moving book, was a lovely surprise.
The story centres on two elderly neighbours whose partners have died, and whose children have long left home. And in their place, a heavy and unwieldy sense of loneliness has descended.
The practical and plain-talking Addie walks over to Louis’ house to propose a solution to this loneliness – the two could sleep together, offering each other the company that they crave.
And so begins an intimate story of two people’s lives becoming entwined. While the two had known of each other previously, the reality that they discover, from the source, is often quite different from what they perceived. There is no drama, no grand proclamations, just the measured account of the neighbours learning about each other.
This book was a pleasure to read, but also an illuminating insight into lives that are small, but are as significant as any.
What makes this book all the more poignant is that it was written as the author, Kent Haruf was dying – his final book. Haruf died in 2014 at the age of 71, and Our Souls at Night was his sixth novel.
I feel grateful that Haruf completed this restrained, compassionate and quietly compelling work, which was such a departure from the stories of conflict and tragedy that I am so used to reading. It revealed to me the wonder of the small moments of life, revealed in the friendship between Addie and Louis.