Marilynne Robinson




Been meaning to review this for ages to secure or deny it a permanent place on my bookshelf. Iíve reread it twice now in the attempt but never got around to reviewing it. Itís been a few months, but thereís still enough of an impression for me to decide it can go.


Robinson creates an original space. She evokes disorder, and cold, and isolation. The characters are textured, and sheís having a decent stab at profundity Ė you know, death, relationships, human-condition. No wonder I came across it when doing a uni course: itís rife for essays. Community is really under the microscope: these characters totally challenge the idea that itís valuable and good. Iím not sure whether sheís more saying it suits some people and not others, or that sheís arguing that the whole idea of society is shallow and self-deluding.


Iím also not sure that my finding the narrator to be, overall, an unsympathetic character, says more about me, the authorís intent, or the character herself. Initially sheís swept along by events beyond her control. But Ė particularly as shown in the radically different choices of the two sisters Ė she moves to reject society. Iím not convinced: her dismissals to me seem uninformed. And her alternative not to show any greater integrity. There is an underlying contempt for most people, which I found unjustified and the opposite to heroic (and I wonder if she was meant to appear heroic. Maybe she does to some people, but it feels like that would only work with someone in a sulky, immature, selfish place). Sure some societal structures are toxic or shallow, but itís not as if itís impossible to have any worthwhile human relationships, and there is only one model for interaction.


So Iím dropping the book, not for the undeniable quality of the writing, but for the (deliberately) unpleasant atmosphere, what I perceived as the themes, and company I found uninspiring, and vaguely contemptible. Wow Ė maybe I am societyís dupe. Or not a misanthrope. Sure itís good to expose hidden vacuity behind the appearance of profundity Ė but itís also good to highlight value thatís hidden. I didnít find much to inspire here.



(Reread March 2014)