Monday, July 19, 2010

One sad book

I finished reading Marilynne Robinson's Home, this morning. Man, that is one sad book! I mean sad in its proper sense, not as in weak, pathetic. Even the cover has an endorsement that says: 'One of the saddest books I have ever loved' - that's from Sarah Churchill, in the Guardian.

Home is the reverse book to Gilead which is not one of the saddest books I've ever read. Gilead is unusual, strange, humorous, deep, wise. It's a brilliant book, and I've read it twice, with equal enthusiasm on each occasion.

I don't think I could read Home again. It isn't that it's depressing; strangely enough, it's not. There's an underlying sense of hope, and this is fulfilled at the end of the book, though not as sweepingly as the reader would like. The book is detailed: there are three main characters who take almost all of the focus. Glory is the youngest daughter in a family. After an unsuccessful engagement she comes home as a woman in her thirties to look after her aging father, Rev Boughton. The rest of the large family is scattered, happily married, having children. Except for one, Jack, who's a kind of self-imposed black sheep. Boughton has forgiven him time and again, has even forgiven him for the fact that he hasn't been in touch for twenty years. And of course Jack comes home, and the three spend the next couple of hundred pages trying to understand each other, and only marginally succeeding.

As in the story, Gilead, there's a great deal of forgiveness going on here. Although the main character of Gilead appears in this story at times, he seems different; in fact he seems to be the one person who can't forgive, although we know from the other book that he's more forgiving than he appears. But we're never privy to his thoughts in this book, whereas he told us everything in the first one.

In this book it's Glory who most exposes her soul. She's the one who achieves understanding when others don't. She's the one who keeps Jack from destroying himself completely (though there's nothing especially dramatic about this part of the book), and she's the one who continues to love even when the love is returned only in the most odd of ways.

Her father never seems to understand anything clearly, although he's been the one who held onto the dream of seeing Jack again, he's been the one who seemed most capable of love and forgiveness. In the end he starts to slide into mild dementia, and understands even less.

Robinson has a wondrous ability to write superb prose, to probe into the depths of people's character, and to create a world that isn't unusual, and yet is full of unusual detail.

I kinda loved Home, but I'm not sure I could recommend it to anyone the way I did with Gilead.
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