HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson (2008)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Home is a novel about what happens after the prodigal son returns to his father’s house. The setting is the small American town of Gilead and the year is 1956. The father is the frail old Reverend Boughton and his prodigal son is Jack, the alcoholic youngest son who abandoned a girl with a baby in his youth and hasn’t been home in twenty years. The jealous older brother of Jesus’ parable is transformed into the youngest daughter of the family, Glory. She is not jealous, either, but loving to her troubled brother, having returned home after being used for money by a no good ‘fiance’ for years.

It is a slow moving, unadorned novel, and the impatient reader won’t enjoy it or even finish it. Its pleasures are subtle ones, exact prose and slow burning, wise drama as Jack and Glory look warily and wearily for redemption in their own ways and as their father’s health deteriorates.

The characters have a sense of space in their lives, and this gives me another strange pleasure. Jack and Glory find themselves in a quiet town, in a quiet home with no particular commitments anywhere. They live in a kind of long school holiday, filling in their time with gardening, board-games and cooking. They aren’t particularly happy, yet I find myself slightly envying them.

The novel’s relationship to Robinson’s previous novel, Gilead (2004), is significant. Gilead is set in the same town at the same time, narrated by Boughton’s oldest friend, the Reverend John Ames. Gilead is a tale of generations, as Ames looks back on his father and grandfather and forward to his young son. Home is also about family, but is horizontal – a single nuclear family and its aftermath, rather than generations. The overlapping of characters and events between the novels is fascinating. I’m going straight back to re-read Gilead while it’s all fresh in my head.

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