My friend and fellow book lover recently lent me a book called Home by Marilynne Robinson. ‘Go on read it, you’ll love it’ she said. ‘Not much happens but it’s beautiful and amazing’. We don’t meet up very often, but every time we do we always chat about what we’ve been reading. I knew she’d be desperate to chat about this book when I saw her next, so I thought I’d better give it a go.
I’d never heard of Marilynne Robinson, even though she won the Pulitzer prize for her novel Gilead, a companion to Home. And being a crime fiction addict means that I’m not usually a big fan of books where ‘not much happens’.
But despite my reservations, within the first few pages I’d completely fallen in love with it.
The story is set in the 1950s in a small rural town in Iowa. Robert Boughton, a retired minister, is in poor health. His youngest daughter Glory has returned to care for him. Jack, his father’s most beloved but most troubled son, also returns home after a 20 year absence – searching for peace, forgiveness and a chance to rebuild his delicate relationship with his father before it is too late.
Having two young boys means I don’t get the time or energy to devour books in one sitting like I used to, but in many ways I was really glad about this, because instead of skimming the pages to find out what was going to happen next, for the first time in a long time I really savoured the words. I reread passages again and again because they were so incredibly moving. It’s such a beautiful and lyrical novel, it deserves this kind of time and attention.
My friend is right – not much does happen. But books don’t always need to have outrageous plot twists and turns to fill you with awe and amaze you. Sometimes the simplicity and mysteries and everyday life and how people navigate these with beauty, grace and tenderness is all that’s needed.
Reading Home is at the same time life-affirming and heart-wrenchingly sad. Despite its apparent simplicity and Robinson’s beautifully clear language, it tackles huge themes of forgiveness, the beauty and pain of unconditional love, and the enduring power of family. It was the first novel in a long time to reawaken my appreciation of character-rich writing.
I’m now reading the companion novel Gilead, which I’m also loving, and I’ve just come back from the Reader Organisation national conference in Liverpool, where Marilynne was a key note speaker. It was amazing to hear her talk about the impact of reading on her life, she is an incredibly eloquent speaker. Her writing has certainly had an impact on me.
Review by Wendy Kirk