As nice as it is to read about characters and places I recognise, it is novels that detail societies and landscapes completely different to mine which I find the most fascinating. The work of Marilynne Robinson is so much about location that it simply would not work if it was transposed anywhere else. Her novels, set in a mid-twentieth century American Midwest, are as much about the place as the plot, with a delicate depiction of the setting and society that the novels exist within being one of their delights. I read Robinson’s second novel Gilead (2004) for a university course and found myself unexpectedly enjoying it, so when I spotted a copy of Home (2008), the next book she released, in a charity shop I snapped it right up. What I didn’t realise before I picked it up was that the book was directly related to Gilead. Instead of being a sequel, however, it examines the same events from a different perspective. Gilead is about the memories of Reverend John Ames whilst Home tells the story of Glory Boughton, the daughter of his best friend, Reverend Robert Boughton.
I’m going to go ahead and say right now that if you don’t enjoy reading about religion, then you probably won’t enjoy Home (or Gilead, for that matter). Still this isn’t a novel about religion. Glory’s father is a minister and so everything is gently seeped in a strong Christian faith, but Glory isn’t perfect and the novel allows her to not be. Her prodigal brother Jack is no saint either, and the narrative accepts them as they are, encouraging the reader to as well. How Glory went from being a teacher to moving home and looking after her father is never explicitly stated, but hinted at.
In fact, a lot is hinted at. There is a gentle charm to the narrative. Even as it tackles complex and difficult situations, it never becomes difficult to read. Glory is a heroine I recognise. She tries to do her best, tries to always be kind and considerate, and the novel shows her internal struggles. By the end of the novel I was really invested in her story and I was sad to say goodbye. Although she didn’t really have a ‘happy’ ending as such, I found myself hoping she got the future she deserved.
A beautifully written novel, it is probably not for anyone looking for high octane thrills. However, anyone who likes to read plots which are character driven and aren’t put off by the religious aspect will find a gently unwinding story with a few unexpected twists and turns along the way. If you’ve already read Gilead or Robinson’s most recent novel Lila, you’ll already know the town of Gilead and know some of the characters so make sure to check out Home too. I’m searching for a copy of Lila next!
I give it 3.5 stars.