Article published on April 1, 2016.
I am in the enviable position of having delightful e-conversations with nudge and nb readers and one such occurred recently with Jackie Gethin who had initially recommended The Martian, almost as an aside. At which point I went into full on Editor mode and asked her about her Best Book of the 21st Century . . .
I don’t know if I can possibly come up with a definitive best book of the 21st Century. We are not very far into it yet and I am not nearly well enough qualified to make a good or informed decision.
However, having said all that I have made my choice. It may not be the best book by any means but it is one that I loved and have just re-read with as much enjoyment and enthusiasm as I had the first time. One of those books you want to go out and buy several copies to give to all your friends. It is Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf published in 2015, I think. (Say it out loud very carefully!)
So here is my review:
This lovely, quiet, gentle little tale was written towards the end of the author’s life, he died in 2014 and I read somewhere that he knew he was dying when he wrote it.
It concerns two elderly inhabitants of a small American town called Holt. Abbie Moore calls on her neighbour one day and invites him to share her bed. She makes it clear she is after companionship and conversation only. She has the idea that the arrangement will help stave off the loneliness and silence of her long sleepless hours.
In the next few chapters, in clear simple prose, we learn of their developing friendship and we hear their stories. The writing is deceptively spare and concise but the picture painted is evocative and powerful with a wonderful sense of place and season. I have never been to America but I feel I know exactly what Holt looks and feels like.
As with his trilogy Plainsong, Eventide and Benediction you become very fond of the characters and really care what happens to them. It is a very simple little story about very simple, ordinary people but told with such care and love that you read it almost in one sitting and then turn back to the beginning to read it again.
I hope that is vaguely what you were after.
[To which I had to reply: Well, first of all, Jackie, we’ll have none of this ‘not nearly well enough qualified’ rubbish – your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. And secondly, the fact it stands up to re-reading is even more pleasing (so many books don’t, I find).]
So thank you, Jackie, for yet another addition to our BB21C collection.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Picador hbk July 2015
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