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Home by Marilynne Robinson

By Teabelly | Books | April 28, 2010 |

By Teabelly | Books | April 28, 2010 |

Marilynne Robinson has written three novels. Her first, Housekeeping, was written in 1980 and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. It was over 20 years before her second novel, Gilead was published, and also nominated for a Pulitzer. Gilead is written from the point of view of Reverend John Ames and is an account of his life for his 7-year-old son. Home is its companion, telling the same events from different perspectives. Ames still features, but the focus is now on his neighbour Robert Boughton and his children Glory and Jack, who have both recently returned home. Jack has always been unreliable and something of a disappointment to his father, who worried for the state of his son’s soul. Glory is the peacemaker, living her own nightmare of returning to the town of Gilead and becoming stuck there. Her other siblings may want their home to stay exactly as it was in their memories, but she has to live there, looking after her ailing father and unable to leave her own mark.

There’s not much plot to the book; most of what happens takes place in the home, with Glory and Jack getting to know each other and getting used to each other again after many years of estrangement. They come to rely on and understand each other through their conversations and looking after their father together. Glory is at first unsure how to take Jack, expecting him to leave suddenly or possibly bring shame on the family again. Years before as a young man Jack got a young girl pregnant and fled. His family tried to help her and the child, but they have never gotten over it. Jack spends much of his time trying to find a way to connect with his dying father, and wondering how to tell him what he has been up to, and what his beliefs are in regards to religion and God.

This is an extremely slow book; almost nothing happens for much of it. Although it is beautifully written, I didn’t find it absorbing. The characters seem to spend much of the time having the same conversation and never getting anywhere. They skirt around the issues and never talk about what is really going on or how they feel, until the next day when it begins again. I haven’t read Gilead, but from reading about that book I think you really need to have read it or have some knowledge of it to properly appreciate Home. We’re not really told what Jack was like when he was younger, or what he did that was so horrible, other than being different. Yes he stole some minor items and worried the town, and later got a girl pregnant, but there’s no description of how bad he made his family feel, or why he did these things. Even he doesn’t seem to know. And certain things seem to happen ‘off camera’, so to speak. When Jack goes to visit Ames to talk we don’t get to hear it, as it is covered in Gilead. A lot is left to the imagination and it’s a little frustrating. I just never really understood why they couldn’t just have a damn conversation and feel better having cleared the air.

It is Glory who saved this for me. She is home after her engagement ended and is settling into a life as a spinster and coming to terms with the loss of her own possible family. She’s the only one who really got under my skin, and I was quite touched by the ending. Other than that I can’t say this is a book I enjoyed. It really was a struggle at times to pick it up and continue, and if I hadn’t given up on three other books recently I might have put this down for good. But it’s very acclaimed and apparently a very ‘worthy’ book, as is its predecessor, it just didn’t do much for me.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Teabelly’s reviews, check out her blog,

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