Many thoughtful readers of Zoomtard loved Gilead, one of the great novels of our time. Many poor simpletons like my wife-unit found it stultifyingly boring. She assures me regularly that one day I will meet Marilynne Robinson and she’ll be horrible to me.
On a flight home last night I finished Home, the follow up novel by Robinson. Considering there was almost 25 years between Housekeeping and Gilead, to have Home 3 years later turns Robinson positively prolific. I simply cannot write a review that would do justice to this book. This review in the Independent is somewhat muted:
There are very few novels written by living novelists that I wish I had written myself and Marilynne Robinson has written two of them. Gilead, the extraordinarily beautiful, patient, scrupulous unfolding of the life of its elderly narrator, John Ames, a pastor in a small town in Iowa, was one. Home, her latest, is even finer than its predecessor. I would give teeth to have written it.
The venerable A.O. Scott also seems unwilling to heap the praise it deserves!
It is a book unsparing in its acknowledgment of sin and unstinting in its belief in the possibility of grace. It is at once hard and forgiving, bitter and joyful, fanatical and serene. It is a wild, eccentric, radical work of literature that grows out of the broadest, most fertile, most familiar native literary tradition. What a strange old book it is.
I loved Gilead because it was a book written for me. A writer who has a rare subtelty with words and who has conquered the glorious thought of the stream of Christianity I swim in more convincingly than I ever could. Gilead was an apologetic for the decisions I have made and make. Gilead was my own personal (although boring!) vindication. It was the first novel I had ever read about an old preacher wrestling with scripture and faith and family and love in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Ames is a picture of a man I would like to be. The writing may be delicious, but there is no way I can objectively separate the deep emotional connection I have with this book from something called “literary merit”. Although I didn’t say it when I stood up in church and advised everyone to buy it (most people thought it was boring!), there are deeply personal reasons for me loving this book.
In opening this book and reading Ames’ dear friend, Gilead’s Presbyterian Minister Rev. Robert Boughton’s reflection that seen in the geological time that God has access to, the giant twisted oak tree in their garden would look to have burst out of the ground, leaped towards the sun and twisted in exultation at the beauty of creation and the delight of being alive. I knew I would love this book. It had literary merit and theological reflection but we were back in the same territory as Gilead. Robinson offering pastoral care for a generation of young men thinking about what it might be to be called to preach.
But it was only in the final few pages of Home that the diptych struck a blow with its full force. It is a Work Of Art. It is then, as the novel closes as readers of Gilead know it will close, we realise that Gilead and Home are much more than perfectly told novels of the little ways we love and fail and the permanenance of grace. It holds out a prophesy of a day to come when the sons of the lost sons of Christianity might be able to stop their wilderness wanderings and find home in the grace of their father. It rings with a note that perhaps many reviewers have not ears to hear.
And although I am tempted to give that final paragraph away I will not steal the pleasure from you. Suffice to say no book can be sad (as so often it is reviewed as) when it ends as so:
That he has answered his father’s prayers.
The Lord is wonderful.
Your Correspondent, Love makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal