Monday 9 February 2009

Home by Marilynne Robinson

In Home, Marilynne Robinson has written a very compelling companion novel to her beautiful, bracingly unfashionable Pulitzer Prize winner, Gilead. Coming to that novel in 2006 straight after reading the hysterical over-hyped trash-fest We Need To Talk About Kevin was like a restorative blast of fresh air, Shriver’s unconvincing melodramatics replaced by the deep contemplation and compassion of Robinson’s text. Conditioned by the resolutely secular ethos of contemporary lit, I kept waiting for Robinson’s narrator, the Congregationalist minister Reverend John Ames, to be revealed as hypocrite, paedophile or fraud. Not so: Robinson dared to present Ames as a good man, the kind of character so rarely seen in modern fiction. Robinson’s clear, distilled language expertly captured Ames’s voice, with the text constructed as an extended testament - part reminiscence, part rumination, part reverie - to the character’s young son. Home doesn’t have quite the greatness of Gilead - it feels like a more conventional work - but it expands upon the earlier novel in extremely interesting ways. All current lit trends - for violence, sex, obvious “drama” - are graciously ignored. But in its quiet way this is a novel that’s fully engaged with American culture, politics and history, especially the issue of race. Robinson brings it all together in a final scene of subtle power and brief connection. It’s a lovely, moving book.

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