Home by Marilynne Robinson

When reading Gilead, I wondered whether I would ever find a book as quietly, gently, tenderly moving as it is, again. In Home, I found the answer to that question. Written as a companion novel, rather than a sequel, it is the story of John Ames’ best friend, Robert Boughton, close to death, and that of two of his eight children; Glory, his youngest child, whose failed marriage and career have brought her back to seek refuge within her childhood home in the sleepy Iowan town of Gilead, and Jack, featured prominently in Gilead; the black sheep, the wayward child, the prodigal son Robert loves the best, and has suffered endlessly over.

Jack has not returned home for twenty years when he suddenly resurfaces, hung over and haunted, on his father’s doorstep. Always the one who didn’t belong, his character, his behaviour, and his life are a mystery to his otherwise tight knit family, and a source of constant pain and frustration to his father, who can no longer maintain the kind and patient manner he has always tried so hard to adopt with this much beloved son who has disappointed him so greatly. The ramshackle house in a tumbledown town on the outskirts of nowhere crackles with tension and misery as these three family members attempt to live alongside each other, none of them voicing the unhappiness, loneliness, frustration and pain with which their hearts are full. This childhood home, once filled with the shouts and laughter of a brood of eight children, is silent, thick with the suffocating atmosphere of unspoken secrets and haunting regrets. However, as full of pain and struggle and disappointment as this novel is, it is also full of  hope, and love, and redemption.  Complex, conflicted, human characters fill its pages. Beauty; haunting, melancholy beauty, suffuses every page.

Life, in all of its inexplicability, in all of its confused alarms of struggle and flight, is portrayed exquisitely. Jack; a mystery even to himself; Glory, who has passively surrendered her dreams; Robert, whose faith is shaken by the son for whom his possessive, passionate, desperate love is powerless to redeem; they are all magnificently drawn, and powerfully moving. As they wait for Robert’s death; as Jack struggles to understand what he can do to atone for the pain he has caused his father; as Robert struggles to forgive the son who never meant to hurt him, and to forgive himself for his inability to forgive; and as Glory attempts to make sense of how her life has brought her back to the virginal bedroom of her youth, the myriad of ties that bind us to our families; of love, and duty, and loyalty, and sacrifice, are revealed in all their terrible splendour.  What a tale this is: of love, of family, of life, of the true meaning of home. It is so true, and so wise, and so tender, and so full of compassion.

Like Gilead, I can’t really find the right words to do any kind of justice to the wonder of Home. It stands alone from Gilead, but read together, like I have done, these two marvellous books feed into one another and add a richness to each other that should not be missed. I know Marilynne Robinson is not for everyone. However, these two books have given me a reading experience I will never forget. Searingly honest, subtle, yet rich, they are sublime. Please read them.

ps. I have just noticed that another lovely book, though lovely in a completely different way, L M Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, has briefly come back into print. For £9.99 you can get a nice new paperback from amazon – this is an incredibly rare opportunity, so grab it while you can – I promise you won’t regret it!

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40 comments

  1. I was just going to turn the computer off for the night when I noticed you had posted, Rachel. Now, what I was going to do was climb up the stairs and cozy on in with Gilead, whose pages are anxiously awaiting me, and here I see you are reviewing Home. I think I’ll be busy for awhile. Your review is compelling. Off I go, to Gilead.

    1. Hello Penny! It has taken me unforgivably long to reply to comments this week, sorry! I am so excited to hear what you think of Gilead. I hope you are absolutely drowning in its wonderfulness as I write this!

  2. I came to a very similar conclusion- couldn’t find the words to do it justice but wanted everyone to read it anyway. :)
    Still have to read Gilead!

    1. Good! I don’t understand how people can’t love these books. They are so beautifully written. As you adored Home, you’ll be in for more of a treat when you read Gilead. I think I slightly preferred Gilead, as the voice of John Ames is so endearingly wonderful.

  3. I read each of these as they came out and although I loved both of them instantly I can see how much more compelling they would be read together. I was fascinated as I passed them round my various book groups to see who loved them and who couldn’t be doing with the slow pace. It made me cautious about handing books on because I look at those readers who didn’t like these books with a very different eye now.

    1. Hi Annie! I am glad I waited to read them, as I was able to read them back to back. I so enjoyed that, and I’m not sure I would have got as much from either of them if I hadn’t have done so. Maybe you could have a reread now you’ve had time to let them settle?

      Annie, I think I would be secretly disappointed in someone who didn’t love these books. Their humanity is what makes me love them, and anyone who couldn’t appreciate that – well. I would find that sad.

  4. I read Home before Gilead, but as you say they are companion books so the sequence doesn’t matter. I read them perhaps a year apart, but found the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, because of the insights you gain into some of the principal characters as they are portrayed from different points of view. And both books were so moving, as you noted it’s difficult to put thoughts into words.

    Coming here to leave this comment I also noticed your new design and header — very nice !

    1. No, I don’t think the sequence hugely matters, but I’m glad I got to know John Ames first, because he doesn’t come across particularly well in Home. I think both books hugely benefit from a knowledge of the other, and I’m actually quite tempted to reread Gilead yet again with the greater knowledge I now have of Jack. It’s so hard to express just how brilliant these novels are. I am surprised to read elsewhere that others found them dull – I just don’t understand how you can’t read such beautiful language and insights into humanity without being overwhelmed. Perhaps my soul is too sensitive!

      Thank you! I felt the need for a new look! I’m so glad you like it!

  5. Glad to hear that you loved this. What a treasure Marilynne Robinson is. I have a copy of her first novel, Housekeeping, on my TBR pile now, and I’m determined to read it this year, but it makes me sad that then I won’t have any of her fiction left until she writes a new book.

    1. Marilynne Robinson is a true treasure indeed, and I am excited to read Housekeeping as well. As I’ve been so caught up with the characters she created for these two books, I’ll be interested to see how she writes about other people in a different setting. However, as you say, do I want to rush in and then have nothing new to read?! Perhaps not! Though I could tackle her very cerebral sounding non fiction…

  6. I think I responded to Gilead the same way you did. I wasn’t quite ready for it to end. I’m eagerly anticipating Home — must confess I was skimming your review to get to your reaction so I wouldn’t get too many plot details. :) I’m glad to know that there’s more of the same in store for me with Home. Thanks for the review and recommendation. I would echo all that you’ve said about Gilead. It really surprised me because I didn’t care for Housekeeping that much. To me, they are definitely apples and oranges. Love the new header, btw. It reminded me of Meg Ryan sitting in the coffee shop waiting for Tom Hanks to show up in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” — except that this lady is missing the rose.

    1. Ha! Susan, I hope you absolutely revel in Home. As you loved Gilead as much as me, I can’t see how you could possibly find Home any less rewarding than I did. Interesting about Housekeeping – I am going to try and go in with not too many expectations, and hopefully I won’t find it lacking.

      Thank you! I like it too. I realised the other day that I spend an inordinate amount of time looking pensive in coffee shops (this is more due to my bad eyesight than anything else – I am usually squinting at something in the distance), so I thought it captured me well. I like to think of myself as an Edward Hopper kind of girl!

  7. Wonderful review. These books are truly a treasure. My daughter was able to hear Robinson speak at a conference a couple of years ago and immediately found a copy of Gilead. After reading it she told me I HAD to read it. I’m so glad I did.

  8. I really loved Gilead, and have had Home on my shelves since it came out. After reading this, I’ll have to pick it up soon. I’m glad to hear it lived up to the high standard set by Gilead.

  9. Would it still work if I crossed out the word ‘Iowa’ throughout and wrote in, say…’Yorkshire’?

    I am so bad! Seriously though, I am very impressed with your American reading project, Rachel. And LOVE the new look!

    1. Oh Darlene, you’re so funny! Perhaps you could pretend it’s not set in America, and then you would love it even more! Seriously though, I do think you should try reading them regardless of your Anglomania!

      Thank you Darlene – it’s nice to have a fresh start for a new year!

  10. Rachel, I’ve been waiting to hear what you had to say about Home. I finished it over a week ago, and I loved it almost as much as Gilead.
    Someone had told me it wasn’t quite as good, and I agreed with the assessment at first. I was missing the first person voice of the narrator from the first novel; I thought it would have been great if Robinson had done the same thing with a different character in Home, because she was able to portray the voice of Ames so well. Yet, as I was reading, I saw the benefit of having a third person narrator; holes in conversations were filled in, and she gave a fuller view of the situation that couldn’t have been achieved with a first person narration.
    I also loved the unfolding of the brother/sister relationship, and the kindness and understanding of Glory was beautifully depicted.
    I was a bit taken aback by the ending. I won’t go in to too much detail because I don’t want to give away a spoiler, but it didn’t seem historically accurate. I would have expected Glory to react in a different way considering the times. Yet, it fit totally with her accepting, loving character to react in that way. What do you think?
    As always, a beautifully, written review. And I love your new blog layout and picture at the top. It brings to mind a gritty, New York scene from the 30s with the thoughtful girl drinking coffee in a cafe.

    1. Virginia, I’m so glad we both got to experience these beautiful books at the same time as one another. I’m also delighted that you took such pleasure in them. They’re such enriching novels and it’s a joy to know that there are others out there who took Marilynne Robinson’s writing truly to heart.

      I agree with you about the voice of Ames – I missed it, too. I found him such a beautiful character, and I didn’t like seeing another side to him in Home. I think that the interpretation of his behaviour could be read in several different ways, and I liked how that was left open. I don’t think he meant to hurt Jack, not really.

      Yes, the brother/sister relationship was very touching, and powerful. Having grown up with just two siblings who I am very close to, the idea of not knowing my siblings was very strange to me, and something I enjoyed reading about.

      I’m not sure about the ending. I think it was quite typical of Glory, and her wonderful ability to have compassion on others. I think that her own losses, and her own yearning for children that was sadly thwarted, made her more loving towards Jack’s children because they could potentially grow to fill the mother shaped hole inside of her. I just could have wept for Glory. She loved so much, and wanted so little, and yet she never quite made it work. Did she try hard enough? I don’t know. A wonderful, complex character.

      Thank you – I’m glad you like the new look! I am obviously a glamorous, thoughtful, slightly pensive looking young woman who spends lots of time in New York coffee shops brooding! Ha!

  11. I am currently reading Gilead. I bought it after reading your review. Usually I read a book of this size in no time, but this one takes more time. I wait for very quiet moments when I can read a bit of this book and let it run around in my head and heart. This is such a meaningful book that I don’t want to speed through it and miss something. I will find Home and read this as soon as I get the chance. Thank you so much for introducing me to these books.

    I like your new banner too.

    1. Janet, I am so glad to hear that you have picked up Gilead after my review. I had exactly the same experience – Gilead and Home are not books you can try and read for the plot or race through. You have to read them slowly and let the language and the ideas and the thoughts and the emotions go through you and settle. I am so excited to read what you think, and I hope you will go on to enjoy Home just as much. It was my pleasure to recommend them and I am glad that Gilead is bringing you so much joy!

      Thank you! I do like the new look, I have to say!

  12. Between this post and Mary’s I now know which of the other Marilynne Robinson books I’d like to read and it’s Home. Maybe a re read of Gilead and then home.
    ps There’s a church near me that is called ‘Gilead’ that i only noticed after your posting on the novel.

    1. Yes, I am sure Home will not disappoint you, and if you read it with Gilead being fresh in your mind then you’ll get even more from it. I do want to read Housekeeping but I am nervous after reading Mary’s review!

      How interesting! Maybe you should check it out! It could be a sign!

  13. I’ll be reading this one later this year as part of my 2011 project to read all the Orange winners, and it’s one I’m most looking forward to. I hope to read Gilead as well, but I’m glad to known it’s more of a companion novel. Thanks!

    1. I’m so glad to hear that you’ll be reading Home! I wouldn’t say it is a ‘companion’ novel exactly – they both stand alone perfectly well, but read together, they enrich each other, if that makes sense. I think if you’re going to invest time in one, you should read both; it will honestly be worth it. Enjoy!

  14. I’ve heard so much about Gilead in book blogs, I don’t know why I haven’t read it yet. My college roommate grew up on a farm in a small Iowa town, and every now and then I’d go to visit her parents with her. Being from Chicago, I found the little town fascinating…but there was also so much drama there I was really quite surprised. So much so that Chicago seemed tame in comparison.

    1. Hello Grad! You must get around to them! I know what you mean about small town gossip – I’ve had the same experience. Everyone knows every minute detail, and even the tiniest indiscretions are served up on a platter! Not my kind of lifestyle, I have to say!

  15. I loved Gilead and Housekeeping, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy Home when I get around to reading it. You have wonderful taste in books, Rachel.

    BTW, I’ve taken over your former duties as WI Secretary and love being on the committee!

    1. Hi Nadia! I’m sure you will – you must read it when you get a chance! Thank you so much! I try!

      Oh the WI!! I miss it! Hope you girls are still having lots of fun and that it’s going strong. I will be back for a visit!

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