James Tait Black Prize for Fiction
The Folio Prize
Shortlisted for the Folio Prize.
One long last summer for Dad Lewis in his beloved town, Holt, Colorado. As old friends pass in and out to voice their farewells and good wishes, Dad's wife and daughter work to make his final days as comfortable as possible, knowing all is tainted by the heart-break of an absent son. Next door, a little girl with a troubled past moves in with her grandmother, and down town another new arrival, the Reverend Rob Lyle, attempts to mend strained relationships of his own.
Utterly beautiful, and devastating yet affirming, Kent Haruf's Benediction explores the pain, the compassion and the humanity of ordinary people.
In the media
"The precious ordinary," as one character puts it, is the central concern of this remarkable book. Benediction is quiet and nearly uneventful, but it is also unforgettable. A small rural community swims into focus as vividly as if seen through a pair of binoculars; the characters endure stoically; the emotions are largely unspoken and yet all the more moving for that, and entirely believable. In the very best sense, it is an old-fashioned novel-virtuous and kind-hearted, dealing with issues that are timeless.
In Benediction, a fine contender for the inaugural Folio Prize, Kent Haruf's beautifully spare prose charts the events of that summer with unpretentious aplomb . . . Sensual descriptions of landscape and weather create an impression of timelessness . . . After a sudden twist, the novel ends, like the ritual after which it is named, on a note of transcendental peace.
Daily Telegraph *****
Haruf's characters, like Pierre and Natasha or Huck Finn, inhabit my mind permanently: they are people I think about . . . Haruf handles human relationships with fierce, reticent delicacy, exploring rage, fidelity, pity, honour, timidity, the sense of obligation; he deals with complex, barely stated moral issues, pushing perhaps towards an unspoken mysticism . . . his courage and achievement in exploring ordinary forms of love - the enduring frustration, the long cost of loyalty, the comfort of daily affection - are unsurpassed by anything I know in contemporary fiction . . . Haruf is in fact a stunningly original writer in a great many ways. The quality of his originality goes right under the radar of much conventional criticism. He doesn't posture or raise his voice. He talks quietly, intimately, yet with reserve, as one adult to another. He's careful to get the story right. And it is right, it's just right; it rings true.
This spring I started reading Kent Haruf. Benediction, his latest book, is about an old man who is dying of lung cancer. Haruf describes the act of dying almost like the act of giving birth: a natural process, a slipping in and out of morphine dreams, a gradual withdrawal. I wrote to Kent Haruf to tell him how much I liked his novels, for the precision of his vocabulary, for the grace that runs through his books, and for the realism. Some of his protagonists recover; others do not. There are good people and bad people, gentle rhythms infused with harsher notes. I thought, I wrote, of Laura Ingalls Wilder overlaid with Cormac McCarthy. American Wild implies loss, as well as exhilaration, and danger. All of that is there in Haruf, along with a measure of grace and peace of mind.
Sigrid Rausing Independent