Summary and book reviews of One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney

One Night Two Souls Went Walking

by Ellen Cooney

One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen   Cooney X
One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen   Cooney
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Nov 2020, 216 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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About this Book

Book Summary

A young interfaith chaplain is joined on her hospital rounds one night by an unusual companion: a rough-and-tumble dog who may or may not be a ghost.

As she tends to the souls of her patients—young and old, living last moments or navigating fundamentally altered lives—their stories provide unexpected healing for her own heartbreak. Balancing wonder and mystery with pragmatism and humor, Ellen Cooney (A Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances) returns to Coffee House Press with a generous, intelligent novel that grants the most challenging moments of the human experience a shimmer of light and magical possibility.

One

Once when I was small I asked my parents, What is a soul?

My father called it a mystery, like the genie in Aladdin's lamp. He knew I'd been reading stories of Arabian Nights. But what he said could not be true. A soul can't slip from a body and speak to you and grant wishes, if you rubbed yourself like rubbing a lamp. I had tried, many times.

My mother said that if she had to compare a soul to a character in a story, she'd pick Tinker Bell, the best thing about Peter Pan.

So I began to imagine a fairy inside me, curled up sleeping for most of the time, perhaps on a cushion of my guts, or some pillow of an organ.

"Wake up, Soul," I would say, but it didn't matter. I had to accept the fact that it could not be told what to do. I never had a clue when it would remind me it was there, whirring about like crazy, fluttering inside my rib cage, zipping around wherever it wanted to go, because of course it would do that; it had wings.

And it knew about the other thing. Like that was...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you have a favorite character or patient? Which one, and why? What made them feel real to you?
  2. How do you respond to the chaplain's relationships with Plummy and Green Man? What role do you think they play in the chaplain's work, and in the story?
  3. The chaplain talks often of "doing her job," and she also frequently references her patients' occupations. Why do you think this is? What do you think the novel says about people, their work, and how they do it?
  4. Although the chaplain is not a medical doctor, the work she does is understood as a crucial form of care. Patients and their loved ones depend on her companionship and wisdom nearly as much as the scientific and technical work of the medical staff that saves physical lives. Why is ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The repetition of meeting a character, learning their history, and saying goodbye to them as they pass on certainly captures how relentless and emotionally taxing the chaplain's work is, but it also means the novel can feel somewhat fragmented at times, reading more like a collection of interlinked short stories. At first, it can be frustrating to lose enigmatic characters just as we begin to feel invested in them; to so quickly have the focus shift on to someone else. But when you consider how closely this reflects the reality of the chaplain's situation, you realize what a clever structural device it is...continued

Full Review (506 words).

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(Reviewed by Callum McLaughlin).

Media Reviews

Foreword Reviews
In Ellen Cooney’s thoughtful, beautiful novel One Night Two Souls Went Walking, the traumas of a hospital’s patients become a way to think about the concept of souls. . . . [T]heir experiences, coupled with the chaplain’s memories, result in a cohesive, thought-provoking story that reveals rare moments of light and connection, making One Night Two Souls Went Walking a meaningful novel that centers hope and peace, even in the face of profound struggles.

Newsweek
Cooney's warm and hopeful novel is a salve for these times.

NPR
[S]himmering, remarkable...the narrator, nameless though she may be, is endlessly fascinating...One Night Two Souls Went Walking is a triumph of a novel, and one that arrives at the perfect time — we're all living in an injured world, hoping for some kind of deliverance.

Publishers Weekly
Brief, vivid portraits...form a memorable collage of souls in need. Cooney's uplifting novel captures extraordinary moments of sadness, pain, and grace, as one woman brings light to life's darkest moments.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Cooney does a remarkable job structuring a novel of vignettes and stories within stories into a cohesive whole. Equally remarkable is her portrait of the chaplain as a personification of the potential for human goodness. Though introspective, the narrator is never self-absorbed. Her voice, funny and direct, keeps sentimentality at bay. The perfect novel to combat pandemic angst.

Author Blurb Dorthe Nors
A poetic story of wandering souls, filled with the beauty of human encounters and the sorrows of departure.

Author Blurb Kate Bernheimer
Whenever I read Ellen Cooney, I feel like I am in the presence of a cunning medium—an unwavering mind reader of memories, dreams. One Night Two Souls Went Walking has the familiarity of old fairy-tale books, the steadiness of Tove Jansson, the abstraction of Silvina Ocampo, and something entirely new. A lovely and grave novel.

Author Blurb Alyson Hagy, author of Scribe
[T]he very rare book that pierces both spirit and sense of humor. One Night Two Souls Went Walking wrapped me in its warm wisdom from the start. Reading it was like reading a Mary Oliver poem or Marilynne Robinson novel—radiant, humane, splendidly joyous.

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Beyond the Book

Animal Assisted Therapy

A person's arm attached to an IV holding a small dogThroughout Ellen Cooney's One Night Two Souls Went Walking, there are several key scenes in which our narrator – a hospital chaplain – observes therapy dogs at work. The book comments on the grace and importance of the service these animals provide for patients, from aiding recovery to providing comfort in someone's final moments.

Like emotional support animals, therapy animals (most commonly dogs and cats) can have a hugely positive effect on a person's mental health, offering patients a sense of companionship during a time of fear and uncertainty. But while emotional support animals tend to be privately owned pets that work consistently with one individual, therapy animals work with trained handlers, allowing them to assist...

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