In 1981 Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping won the PEN/Hemingway Award for best first novel. Well over two decades elapsed before her next novel, but clearly the wait was worthwhile because Gilead received the Pulitzer Prize in 2005.
Gilead is primarily about the Reverend John Ames. As he nears death, he reflects upon his life and writes down his thoughts and feelings in a letter to his young son.
Critics have praised the ‘meditative calm’ and ‘spiritual intensity’ of this beautifully crafted book, noting that its elderly hero is a rarity in fiction: a truly good man who somehow manages to remain interesting!
Ames laments: ‘I will never see a child of mine grow up and I will never see a wife of mine grow old’. One factor contributing to his anxiety is wariness of his unreliable godson, the reprobate Jack Boughton. Ames has to come to terms with his situation – to find ‘a balm in Gilead’.
In 2009 Robinson’s third novel, Home, was the judges’ unanimous choice for the Orange Prize. She takes her readers back to Gilead to view the previous events from different perspectives.
This time the focus is on Jack (Prodigal Son? Penitent Thief? Man of Sorrows?) and his supportive sister, Glory. Both have suffered much; both seek peace.
Home can certainly be enjoyed and appreciated in its own right, although I confess that I chose to read Gilead first. I concur with the critic who described Home as ‘one of the saddest books I have ever loved’.
Join us in reading Home, and let us know your view by leaving a comment below.