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!