52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
Another visit to Gilead,
This review is from: Home (Hardcover)
I mistakenly thought Marilynne Robinson's Home was a sequel to Gilead (2004). It's not. It's contemporaneous -- the same story from a different perspective, though knowledge of the earlier Pulitzer-winning novel is assumed. One almost wonders whether Home started life as a notebook for Gilead. Ever wondered what supporting characters in novels do when they're not on the page? No? Well now you can find out anyway. It's probably a good idea to leave all your expectations at the door with Home, as its markedly different to Robinson's previous novels.
Where Housekeeping (1980) and Gilead were masterful fictionalized memoirs that dove deep into their narrator's personal and family history, Home is a reasonably straightforward, third-person, temporally-continuous narrative. Jack Boughton arrives home after twenty years to live in the desolate house of his ailing minister father, Robert, and his heartbroken spinster sister, Glory.
Though the narration looks-in on the thoughts of Glory (now all but a servant to her father), Glory is primarily a spectator to the comings and goings of Jack, who is the central driving force in the plot. In his childhood, he fathered a child and ran away. He returns from his time in the wilderness disgraced, determined to win the support of his father and the Rev'd John Ames (his namesake and the narrator of Gilead), hoping against hope to build a settled life for himself in this isolated Iowa town, dreaming that his wife will return to him from St Louis.
It sounds like the setup for a great novel. And it is. But that novel is Gilead. Home, though still good, pales in comparison. Housekeeping and Gilead are wonderful for their subjectiveness: their whimsical, unreliable narration, full of little reminisces, stories from long ago and (in Ames's case) offhand insights regarding theology. But Home is practically a study of boredom -- it's three miserable, ordinary people, living in an empty house. It's Big Brother 1956.
The book's strength is, unsurprisingly, Robinson's sensational descriptive prose. Though I was left nonplussed by Home, I still say without hesitation that Robinson is one of the best stylists of English I've ever come across, and the magician that wowed the world with Housekeeping is still in evidence here. Robinson can still write a stunning sentence, but this whole is less than the sum of its parts.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Mar 2010 16:09:08 GMT
Mrs. Katharine Kirby says:
Hi, perhaps you would consider removing the word black from your review as it is a true 'spoiler' of the only twist in the story! Great review.
In reply to an earlier post on 2 Mar 2010 10:53:29 GMT
Jonathan Birch says:
No problem. When I wrote the review, I imagined it would only be read by people who had already read Gilead! These people will already know the plot of Home.
As it turns out, Home has attracted lots of new readers since winning the Orange Prize. Of course, if you read Home first, it gives away the plot of Gilead! An unfortunate predicament.
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