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Book Review: Home by Marilynne Robinson

Home by Marilynne Robinson

If most thrillers or chick lit novels are like hamburgers, then Home is a lovingly made slow-cook meal with subtle favours – a recipe that is likely to be passed down generations in the future. Marilynne Robinson won the Pulitzer prize for an earlier novel, Gilead, and Home was awarded the 2009 Orange Prize. Set in the arguably gentler times of 1956 in Iowa, this is a beautifully written book about family, slightly reminiscent of William Faulkner’s novels.

In this novel, Glory returns home to care for her dying father, the retired and widowed Reverend Robert Boughton. He is an exceptionally kind and loving man who worries about his children – especially the prodigal black sheep of the family, his son Jack, who has been estranged for twenty years. When Jack returns home to help Glory care for their father what emerges is a sensitive and gentle exploration of their family life and the different relationships within and outside the family. Both Glory and Jack hide secrets from their father – Glory is trying to shrug off a disastrous affair of the heart; while Jack has a history of alcoholism, depression and some very dramatic disappointments – and while they go about the day-to-day rituals that involve caring for a frail, and increasingly bedridden old man, the book tenderly fills in the blanks of those lost twenty years.

Be warned, the pace of this book is slow – but unlike some award-winning literary novels, this is a very accessible read. It has beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking observations of this family – their triumphs; their failures and misunderstandings; as well as forgiveness and understanding – with larger themes of faith, identity, ageing and community. Without fad or fashion, this is a book that tenderly looks at the losses and vulnerabilities that are often part of living and loving. Despite some sad moments, this is ultimately a novel of honesty and hope.

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