Friday 23 January 2009


It took me a while to get round to it, but I've now read Marilynne Robinson's Home. In fact I finished it last night, and am now unable to get it out of my head. It was one of the most wonderful - but also strangest - reading experiences of my life. Frank Wilson (of Books Inq fame), who so often seems to be mon semblable, mon frere, surprised me by reviewing Home very coolly, and subsequently admitting that he only read to the end out of duty. So I embarked on the book with mixed expectations, and, for the first third or half of it, I found myself impresssed as ever by the sheer quality of Robinson's writing, sentence on sentence, paragraph on paragraph, but feeling strangely uninvolved, becalmed, even alienated. This endless succession of more or less similar days, with Glory cooking meals and weeping, looking on and musing, as the patriarch and the prodigal son dance their hobbled pavane of reconciliation and resentment - where was it all going? What was it, really, about?
It was at this point that - via (a beautiful irony) Frank Wilson - I found this brilliant essay (which also put in an appearance recently on Thought Experiments). With a clear-sightedness and genuine intelligent sympathy rarely encountered in book reviews, Keizer cuts to exactly what Home is about. Here was my clue - suddenly I got it. Home is no sequel or coda to Gilead - it is something more akin to an antitype. It could indeed (but for the quality of the writing) hardly be more different and, as Keizer says, it is a measure of Robinon's greatness that she could have written both books.
What she is doing, I now realise, in those long stretches of the novel where so little seems to happen is something like a watercolorist laying down washes, so that the achieved final colour shows through itself the glimmer of all that went before, back to the white ground. A result of all this careful and infinitely subtle work is that when, towards the end, events that are recognisably 'novelish' begin to happen, the effect is electric. I found myself gripped, enthralled and fighting back the tears as Home proceeded with what now seemed like urgency to its astonishing, heart-stopping end. It is, I am now convinced, a great book. My faith in Marilynne Robinson is restored and enhanced. Wonderfully.


  1. Go, Nige. I don't know why you fought back the tears. I was on a plane - going to see Marilynne, natch - and sobbed uncontrollably. We need to have a word with Frank

  2. I was in a bar at Victoria - not a good place for weeping (tho it wouldn't have been the 1st time)...

  3. OMG, you guys are unreal. *Home* was a dull, dull book. Like annotations on "Gilead." So ponderous, repetitive, passive, and boring. I reviewed it for the Inky and will happily stand by everything I said there, as will most folks who reviewed it (few indeed found it a great book, not just Frank & moi-meme).

    Mind you, I think Robinson is a genius. *Housekeeping* is a brilliant work. But the novels after it are each less good than the one before. You guys are getting off on what is in your own heads more than what's on the page. That, at least, is my thought!