Two consecutive days in Melbourne, two lovely novellas read.
Our Souls tells of the relationship between Addie and Louis – elderly, lonely and looking for companionship –
“I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me… 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.”
Everyone has an opinion about Addie and Louis’s blossoming relationship, including their own adult children. That’s all I need say about the plot because Haruf’s simple, stripped back language perfectly conveys this tender story, which was both heart-warming and heartbreaking. It’s the quiet way in which Haruf delivers his message – after all, Addie and Louis are ordinary people – that makes this story linger.
Smith has produced a cracker in Embassy. It’s a mere 70 pages but covers so much ground and so many important themes, that it feels big.
It tells the story of Fatou, a young woman who has fled the Ivory Coast to make a better life for herself in London. She works as a maid for the Derawals, a wealthy family who live in a large house near the oddly located Embassy of Cambodia. Each week, Fatou manages a few hours of freedom – some spent swimming at the local gym where she uses the family’s guest passes, and some spent with a young man, Andrew, who she met at church.
It’s on her walks to the pool, where she sees a seemingly never-ending badminton game behind the walls of the Cambodian Embassy, and during conversations with Andrew, that Fatou reflects on power, security, inequality, empathy, genocide and freedom.
“The key to surviving as a people, in Fatou’s opinion, was to make your own arrangements.”
Through Fatou, Smith has created a fictional voice that represents the circumstances of thousands of people. It’s an important story, beautifully written – the descriptions of swimming, shuttlecock, and cake in a Tunisian cafe provide whimsical elements in what is otherwise compact and penetrating prose. Brilliant (if only there was more of Fatou’s story).
4/5 Two afternoons well spent.
*The Embassy of Cambodia was originally published in The New Yorker and is still available to read online (for nix).