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Was it just last year that I read Marilynn Robinson's acclaimed Gilead? I know I loved that book, but sadly, remember very little of it. Is that an indictment on the love I lavished on it? Does failing memory hint at half-loved truths? So many books I have loved over the years, stories I immersed myself in, words I drank deeply of, and wisdom I breathed in, yet I can't remember them. Who is to blame? The books or my memory? Ah, I wonder.
Home by Marilynn Robinson is in a way, a sister companion to Gilead. Robinson's way is to write unhurriedly. There is a sense of quiet even she portrays the deepest despair, and the most vulnerable frailties in man. Her prose is really like poetry, to be read amidst a river somewhere, wildflowers blooming and your own mind stilled for that instant as you lose yourself in the words that one of America's greatest living novelists can offer you. In Home, we return to Gilead, that pastoral town, where the Reverend Boughton is living his last days out in the company of his daughter, Glory, herself returning from a failed relationship, and the scarcely believable return of Jack, the prodigal son. Bear in mind that Robinson's novels have a strong Biblical undercurrent. Religion runs strongly through all her themes, and she loves pitting the unbeliever against the believer, in this case Jack against the Reverend Boughton, his father and Reverend Ames, his best friend.
So unveils Home. It's not a novel that sets alight the reader's stage with action. Rather, the action is in small gestures. The touch of a hand. A ring of laughter. A shared memory. Gentle teasing as Jack and Glory get to know each other after 20 years. And their father to watch them over. They tried hard to please him, knowing as Jack does that his presence itself is an ache to his father, a reminder of a past that best remains to be forgotten. Jack is the eternal tortured soul - the fallen man. Is there redemption for him? In the beginning, I sympathized with him, but towards the end I was frustrated with him. Jack remained a mystery, the motive for his actions inscrutable to me.
Towards the end, Glory describes Jack as "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their face." Somehow, that seems so cruel. Almost excruciatingly sad. But that's how the novel is. An overwhelming work of despair. But not despair that humiliates. But despair that humbles. And in the end, strangely exalts. Perdition may just be life, after all. I can't say I understood all of the novel, maybe I read it too fast. But there is plenty to think about. And oh well, like Glory would have said, "Ah, Jack, you make me sad."
Verdict: Not quite in the same class as Gilead. But a sadder book. Oh! Such a sad book.
Rating : 3.5/5