I read Gilead for one of my MSc courses last year, and really didn’t get on with it at the start. I’m not sure why. Home follows on from Gilead, and I was pulled into the story much quicker, being as I knew the characters already. I think part of what I struggled with when I was reading Gilead was that it wasn’t very… quick. Robinson’s novels are not ones you can read in a hurry and know what’s going on. There’s so much that happens outside of what’s actually written on the page that if you skim read (which I’m sometimes guilty of…), then you miss things, and the narrative seems far more dull than it is if you actually read it. That sounds ridiculously obvious, but it’s something I didn’t really realise until about halfway through Gilead, when I went back and started again.
Anyway, Home follows on, but focuses on Jack Boughton, his sister Glory, and their ailing father, the Reverend Boughton. It’s quiet, and sad, and beautiful, and perfect. Yes, yes, yes. I noticed with Home that there’s much more dialogue, that most of the book is ongoing conversation between Glory and Jack, which is quite different to Gilead, but I liked it a lot. Jack seems much more likeable in Home, much sooner. There’s more forgiveness of his actions, maybe because he’s seen through his family; the younger sister who looked up to him without really knowing him, and the father who doted on his favourite son, without understanding why he was so different to his other children. Ames, the protagonist from Gilead is in this novel, and it shows a different side of him, too. I’m excited to read Lila next, to see how Lila becomes more of a rounded character, and then I’m going to go back and read Housekeeping.
After I write a novel or a story, I miss the characters—I feel sort of bereaved. So I was braced for the experience after Gilead. Then I thought, If these characters are so strongly in my mind, why not write them? With Jack and old Boughton especially, and with Glory also, I felt like there were whole characters that had not been fully realized in Ames’s story. I couldn’t really see the point in abandoning them.
Then I had to make sure that the chronology clicked and certain phrases that occur in the first book occur in the second. For example, the dinner party—Ames is there but doesn’t say a word about it in Gilead. It’s completely consistent with Ames as a character that he would not choose to report a situation that he found painful or that he thought would reinforce unfortunate memories. But I wanted Home to be a freestanding book. I didn’t want it to be a sequel. I wanted it to be true that you could pick up either book first.
From The Paris Review interview with Marilynne Robinson