Home by Marilynne Robinson
|Home by Marilynne Robinson|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: Ponderous and melancholy tale in small town America of a damaged family struggling to understand each other and find inner peace.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 352||Date: April 2009|
|Publisher: Virago Press Ltd|
Set in 1950's small-town America, Home is the story of a minister's family living in Gilead, Iowa. The Reverend Broughton is very old and his health is failing, so his youngest daughter, Glory, has come home to care for him during his last months. Jack Broughton, one of his sons, also returns home during this time. Although he was the Reverend's favourite son, he was always the bad boy of the family, an elusive child whose misdemeanors escalated from mischievous thievery to getting an underage girl pregnant. He left home twenty years previously and hasn't been home since, not even for his mother's funeral. He returns seeking a safe place to stay, and the chance to find some kind of peace with his past.
Marilynne Robinson is a critically acclaimed writer, and this novel is on the Orange prize for fiction shortlist. It is certainly a very stylistic novel with a weighty prize-winning feel about it. I can see the attraction of such a well thought-out book, but I'm afraid I did feel that this dragged somewhat. It seemed, at times, as if she'd just allowed words to run away with her, or had perhaps swallowed a thesaurus and was regurgitating it out in long, rambling sentences. I felt that there were too many that ran on, losing all meaning as she twisted and turned her phrases so that I often had to re-read because I'd lost the sense half way through, or just skipping on to the next bit entirely.
I felt frustrated because the novel certainly had potential, and some parts were just lovely, beautifully phrased. I did wonder if the author was intentionally creating this tedium within her writing to convey the slowness, the boredom, the tension of the lives of Glory, her brother Jack and her father. It's a very claustrophobic work, with just these three characters taking centre stage for almost all of the book. Their stories, their secrets, leak out drip by drip as we discover Glory and Jack's hidden histories. When other characters do finally appear to interact with them it's like a breath of fresh air to hear a new voice. I found it difficult to connect with the characters, especially with Glory who towards the end of the novel spends most of her time crying and then apologising for her tears. They are obviously a very damaged family, for a variety of different reasons, but I must admit that I didn't really care what happened to any of them.
The book explores the meaning of home and of family, looking at sibling and parental relationships and how the actions of one person impact upon another. There is also a lot of discussion of the Christian Faith and American Presbyterianism (which unfortunately leads to yet more of those rambling sentences). Perhaps a more patient reader, or someone who likes to read each word very carefully might appreciate this more than I did. Robinson previously wrote another novel set in Gilead that was called Gilead so it may be that it would help to be familiar with this before reading Home as apparently it deals with the same plot situation but from a different character's point of view. I will say that the final moments of the book were lovely. They were very gentle and quiet but with what felt like some real emotion. It was hard work overall though, and I felt quite melancholy by the end after reading of so much sadness.
For a more uplifting, real-life story about small town America we can recommend The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson. For more fiction in a similar setting why not try After River by Donna Milner.
You can read more book reviews or buy Home by Marilynne Robinson at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Home by Marilynne Robinson at Amazon.com.
Home by Marilynne Robinson is in the Orange Prize for Fiction 2009.
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