23 January 2011

Marilynne Robinson trio

The Marilynne Robinson trio.  It sounds like a jazz ensemble!  But no.  This is a trio of three great novels.

Last year I read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  First published in 2004, it is a letter written by Reverend John Ames to his young son.  Ames has discovered he has a heart condition that will take his life, no doubt soon and without notice, and he wants to write down all the things he wishes his young son to know - things he would have shared over time as his son grew up, had he had the opportunity to live a longer life.   And it is a wonderfully written novel.  It moved along so slowly, and yet it was a page turner.  It was oh so gentle, but not light weight by any stretch of the imagination.  Full of peace, compassion, deep love, honour, loyalty and lived out, deeply understood theology.  Beautiful holiday reading!

A thread in the story is the relationship John Ames and his family has to Robert Boughton, a fellow minister in the town of Gilead who has been Ames' friend since childhood, and his family.  In 2008 Robinson published Home, which unveiled what was happening withing the walls of the Boughton household during the days and weeks described in the pages of Gilead.

I somewhat courageously opened the first page of Home within an hour of closing the last page on Gilead.  Always a risk.  Gilead was so enjoyable - one of those books where I slowed my reading pace right down in the last twenty or so pages to prolong reaching the last page. 

But I wasn't disappointed.  Home is equally compelling, but grittier - and a much sadder story.  Where Gilead was full of hope, Home felt desolate.  But Robinson has crafted the story well.  I didn't finish the book in deep despair.  Desolate but not despairing.  Just like Gilead was slow but still a page turner.

That was last year.  This holidays I have been reading Housekeeping, Robinson's first novel, published in 1980.  Whereas I was hooked into Gilead within a page or two and Home within a handful of pages, I didn't really get into this story until about a third of the way through the book.  The thing that kept me going was her use of language.  She has the most extraordianary vocabulary and a classical turn of phrase. 

Housekeeping is a book about family life, based on the idea that the place where we find love and growth and nurturing is the family home.  But this story is about what happens when tragedy eats away at the fabric of the family home.  When there is an illusion of keeping house - but not the keeping of a home.  It's life at the edge of madness.  Life where transcience, loneliness and loss prevail.  And yet, right at the end there was a glimpse of the deep connectedness that exists within families.  Not a happy read, but a fine book none the less. 

So that's it for fiction for now.  School starts in week's time and it's back to non fiction for the next ten or so weeks.


Rachael said...

Thanks Meredith. Your comments about Gilead are spot on. Slow, but a page turner. I'll search out Home now.

Meredith said...

I hope you enjoy Home. It's not the quietly joyful Gilead, but well written. And I found it really fascinating reading the same story from a different perspective. I've always enjoyed thinking about point of view and characterisation in novels - and so having this pair of books is a gift. Enjoy.

Kath said...

I was fascinated by the two perspectives, too, Meredith. You've prompted me to find Housekeeping, now and read it. Thanks.

Meredith said...

Thanks for visiting Kath. I am looking forward to reading the pair again, maybe next year. And when I won't be reading just to find out what happened in the end, I'll look forward to studying those two elements (POV and characterisation) a little more closely. Hope you enjoy Housekeeping. Eerie but interesting!