My first read of the new year, a book I always choose carefully and Home by Marilynne Robinson seemed right for 2010 given that I'd started 2009 with Gilead, and though Home had won the Orange prize nothing had induced me to read it to date.
I think I needed a rest from the intensity of Gilead and suspected Home might be more of the same, which it is but in a subtly different way and in the end I've perhaps done myself a disservice by waiting so long.
Home is after all the same story told from a different point of view, moving me across to the Boughton household to witness life there with the return of long lost son Jack who had caused Reverend John Ames so much anguish but which is nought compared to the anguish he has put his own family through.
Interestingly I could barely recall the gentle cut and thrust of Gilead and looking back over my thoughts at the time I think I can see why. It was one of those books that seemed to wash over me in a bit of a post-Christmas euphoric reading haze and I remember now having to constantly reread and backtrack because I kept losing my concentration, would reach the end of a page and not quite know what I'd read. I must have ended up reading the book twice and now I'm going to have to read it again...perhaps my first book of 2011 (dv etc). I'll just go on like this ad infinitum in a sort of circular read of Marilynne Robinson until I've grasped every nuance, because there are far more subtleties than one read of each book can possibly pin down.
In some ways Home was devastating for its honesty as Reverend Ames the Amenable seemed to transmogrify into Ames the Curmudgeon as Jack, returning home after an absence of twenty years, a spell in prison and a deceased illegitimate child to his name, seeks forgiveness at every turn only to seemingly find it denied.
The scenes that almost moved me to tears in Gilead have minimal effect when seen from the other side, those given scant regard in Gilead are lip-biting and chokingly emotional when read in Home.
How often do I read a book and think how much I'd love to know the other side of the story, now I've been presented with it I think it's all left me in a state of emotional turmoil far worse than Jack's or Glory's as I ponder who is the truest of these Christians?
Jack is no prodigal son celebrating a homecoming. He has hit rock bottom, his sense of self-punitive worthlessness is profound and moving. A man replete with regrets and sorrow, tired of himself, in need of constant reassurance and affirmation which he looks to receive from a sister who has a bucket-full of her own troubles and a father living out his last days in infirmity and confusion. Poor Jack seems to have a lifetime of thank yous to catch up on and he wastes no opportunity to say so, his gratitude often far in excess of that required of the moment. A lifetime of misunderstandings and transgressions to be assimilated and forgiven.
As I read more and came to know Jack as the reserved, enigmatic outsider who had grown up feeling on the periphery of this close and loving family I couldn't help but be reminded of Susan Hill's novella, The Beacon. The outsider child who may have a very different story to tell, a very different experience of this family. Without 'home' Jack has been rudderless and displaced, for whatever reason denied access to that supposed haven of comfort and forgiveness so there is much to be explored here and I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface.
There is the same compression and density to Marilynne Robinson's writing in Home as in Gilead, look aside for a moment, let my concentration lapse and so much was missed, no word wasted all making another intense reading experience and to be honest I'm not sure where it's left me.
A bit of me desperately wants to read both books again, the rest of me can't quite summon up the reading energy to do that just yet.