One From the Archive: ‘Home’ by Marilynne Robinson **

I was so looking forward to reading Home – which won the Orange Prize in 2009 -after liking Gilead and so enjoying Housekeeping.  The novel is set in the Iowa town of Gilead – unsurprisingly, the same setting as Robinson’s novel of the same name – and funnily enough, I had the same problems with Home as I did with the aforementioned.  Everything felt a little flat to me, characters included.  The scenes which Robinson described were very mundane on the whole, and the prose was devoid of the beauty which is so ever-present within Housekeeping.  The notion of religion throughout entirely saturates what little plot there is. 

Home tells the story of a woman named Glory, who has returned to her hometown to look after her dying father, Reverend Boughton.  The two are soon joined by Glory’s troubled brother Jack, which essentially seems to render the novel a modern retelling of the ‘prodigal son’ tale.  The mundanity of everyday life is heavily entrenched within the novel.  All that Glory seems to do for much of the book is to cook, visit various shops to buy various items which hold no excitement or relevance to the story, and to garden.  I became a little frustrated with this, as very few of the scenes which she appeared within – and there were many – actually contributed in any way to the storyline.  It felt as though Robinson had many pages to fill but not enough to say.  There were also some rather stereotypical elements used within the novel which irked me somewhat.

Reverend Broughton’s gradual memory loss was rendered both well and sympathetically.  For me, it was certainly the strongest aspect of the novel.  I sadly found the dialogue between the characters utterly bland, and it provided a curious sense of detachment.  I do not feel as though it allowed me to get to know any of the characters, any more than the spare, undecorated prose did.

I wanted to stop reading Home as soon as I felt that it had become a little too preachy in its tone, but I thought I would give Robinson the benefit of the doubt.  A quote upon the novel’s back page, which states that the last fifty pages are powerful and moving also contributed to my decision to read it all the way through, in order to see how it improved – or, even, if it would.  I did not find it ‘magnificently moving’, sadly.  Even if it were not for the over-preaching style of the prose, I do not believe that I would have enjoyed this novel.  There were no characters within it whom I could identify with, and the plot is so small in its entirety that it feels incredibly drawn out in a novel of this size.

I remember, upon reading Gilead and awarding it three stars, that I was certainly in the minority with my lower rating.  Most of the reviews which I read around the same time expressed the readers’ adoration for the novel, and I believe that those people – of which there are many – will absolutely love Home too.  Sadly, it just wasn’t for me.  I shall be leaving books set within Gilead well alone in future – a shame, because I do believe that it is the town in which Robinson’s forthcoming novel Lila is set.  I can only hope that she writes something akin to Housekeeping in future, for then I shall certainly certify myself a fan of hers once more.

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