Quick review: Home

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HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel, companion to Robinson’s Gilead, continues her beautiful and affecting writing. Though it is the ‘same’ story as its partner, Home does not merely echo the story from the perspective of the other home. It is a different story, the story of personal lack (both disreputable and respectable). Though the deficient are individuals – strange and estranged – the missing pieces are are fundamentally about the family and the home.

Perhaps the central matter of the novel, to my understanding, is exploring if there can be a true home even when the home harbours failure. I think Robinson’s narrative creates more than a simple ‘Yes’. Astonishlingly it’s, ‘Yes, for the pain itself becomes homely.’

If you haven’t read the novel, my description above will not mean very much. My apologies! I did not want to give away the plot.

Though I enjoyed Home, I don’t think it works as well as Gilead. Home, to me at least, was not always clear. Sometimes this was in the unfolding plot (but this is partly Robinson’s skill of leaving the reader to join up the dots she places on the page). At other times, the lack of clarity was in the ethical judgements made within the tale. This latter lack of clarity is my major concern with Home.

There were times, for example, when the elderly and dementing father spoke with (uncomfortable) directness. And we readers were then told to view that directness as unfortunate, even shameful. Yet I usually thought that the directness was what I’d recommend if real life threw up similar family problems.

A futher comparison in which Home comes off second is in creating characters. They’re fine charatcters, but I did not feel they live as vividly in this novel as do the characters in Gilead.

A part of this was that the theology in Home felt a little tacked-on. The old gent in this novel is a clergyman, but my impression was that the discussions of theology were peripheral to the internal drama. In contrast, when the main ‘reprobate’ quotes scripture (rather than theological maxims) his words show how the Bible can populate the mind even of an individual struggling against the Word.

This quick review has plenty of comparative comments in it – but that’s inevitable with two novels so deeply interrelated. I could not help but consider if one is better than the other. Though it’s clear which one I think that is, I definitely recommend both these novels and Robinson’s writing.

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