Thursday, June 04, 2009
Astonishingly - gloriously - a literary prize jury has got something right. This from the first paragraph of Marilynne's winning novel, Home.
'So began all her prayers these days, which were really cries of amazement. How could her father be so frail? And how could he be so recklessly intent on satisfying his notions of gentlemanliness, hanging his cane on the railing of the stairs so he could, dear God, carry her bag up to her room? But he did it, and then he stood by the door, collecting himself.'
It's all like that, prose so close to the delicacies of experience that its very plainness soars. The embarrassingly loud sob with which I finished this book - I was on a plane - matched the mighty inhalation I achieved after Tarkovsky's Sacrifice. He was the other great religious artist of our time.
I open Home at random.
'Such an offense against any notion of honor, her father had said, and so it still seemed to her, and to him, after all those years. She had followed her father's thoughts back to that old bitterness and bitterness simmered in his half-closed eyes as he reflected on the inevitability of his disappointment.'
We are seeing through Glory's eyes but, somehow, we seem to be in a room in which all thoughts are visible and felt. Marilynne's world shines with significance because, to her, it is significant in every aspect. What better way of writing a novel?
'His door was open. The bed was made, and the sash of the window was up so the curtains stirred in the morning air. He was neatly dressed, in his stocking feet, propped against the pillows, reading one of his books.'
No frills, just the world. Glowing. Nothing much happens in Home, but why should it? More, much more, than we can hope to handle is happening in the world and our heads all the time. This is a very American thing, a vision only Americans can now have - or, at least, express.
'I mean this,' she said to me in her home in Iowa, sweeping her hand across the view, 'would be heaven enough for me.'
'Heaven enough' on her lips is an astonishing phrase. What is our problem? Look at what there is, at what we have. Heaven enough. She is a genius so opposed to the spirit of the age that it is amazing that she is even published, let alone that she wins prizes. Know hope, I suppose. Yes, why not? For once.
Nige badgered me to read her for years, telling me at one point her thought was a bit like mine - oh yeah, sure, right. Finally I did and wrote that article and then, suddenly, everybody was agreed on her greatness. If it was down to that article, then Nige won the Orange this year.
And, yes, she was the American friend I exposed to London Luvviedom. She laughed me out of embarrassment.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 4:57 am