Jack: An Oprah’s Book Club Pick Hardcover – 29 September 2020
Marilynne Robinson is one of the greatest writers of our time. In 2008 I concluded my article: "I'm not saying that you're actually dead if you haven't read Marilynne Robinson, but I honestly couldn't say you're fully alive." I have not changed my mind -- Bryan Appleyard ― Sunday Times
The fourth in Robinson's luminous, profound Gilead series and perhaps the best yet, a sad story about love, race and midwestern mores ― Observer
Each of [Robinson's] novels has celebrated the fact that the ineffable is inseparable from the quotidian, and rendered the ineffable, quotidian world back to us, peculiar, luminous and precise . . . There are passages when Jack's eye glimmers so clearly on the moment, when his dream logic feels so apt, that the whole world Robinson has illuminated with such care and attention reappears, and we are returned to the prophetic everyday -- Jordan Kisner ― Atlantic
Marilynne Robinson's novel has some of the beats of a romantic comedy. The principals are charismatic, their conversation sparky. Jack can be read as a stand-alone, but the book gains much from what many readers will bring to it of their knowledge of its central character from his appearances in the trilogy of novels that preceded this one. Every time Robinson tells this story, it is both a better story and truer -- Dr Nikhil Krishnan ― Telegraph
If your soul isn't stirred by a novel about Jack, chances are you haven't signed up to the doctrine of Marilynne Robinson, one of America's defining writers . . . Robinson's writing is numinous but never alienating to secular readers, because the issues she tackles are universal, with complicated parent-child dynamics a favourite -- Susie Mesure ― The i
It could be said that the attempt to understand how things are is at the heart of Robinson's remarkable body of work. Jack fits beautifully into the subtle weave of Robinson's Gilead books; that said, it could perfectly well be read on its own -- Erica Wagner ― Financial Times
It is an immensely satisfying and bittersweet end to an astonishing series. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these four books taken as a whole is the whole-hearted commitment to the novel as a moral endeavour. They are beautiful, and they are true -- Stuart Kelly ― Scotsman
This is a sunnier book than anyone might have expected, an unlikely love story, both funny and sublime: we see two souls awakening to love in that down-to-earth yet transcendent vein that is Robinson's special hallmark -- Nonnie Minogue ― Literary Review
In Gilead, the first volume, the Rev. John Ames writes that 'a good sermon is one side of a passionate conversation,' and Ms. Robinson's novels work that way, too, replying to one another, querying, clarifying or rebutting, but always sustaining a dialogue that feels as grand and as inexhaustible as the mysteries they explore . . . These novels honor creation by affording us something we only occasionally find in the vastness of existence: a glimpse of eternity, such as it is ― Wall Street Journal
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter mobile phone number.
- Publisher : Virago (29 September 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0349011818
- ISBN-13 : 978-0349011813
- Item Weight : 457 g
- Dimensions : 14.2 x 3.4 x 22 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #402,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Review this product
Top reviews from other countries
The first 78 pages contain a marvellous, sparking dialogue between Jack, a down-and-out, shame-ridden, white Presbyterian minister's son, and Della, the spirited, black, pretty, school-teacher daughter of a leading Baptist minister. The conversation between the two - sometimes luminously at one, at others quietly accusatory - takes place in a graveyard during the course of a long night. The two have been accidentally locked in, or so it appears at first. These opening pages are an astonishingly brave duet (from a writerly perspective), recalling Mozart's sustained Papageno-Papagena aria from the Magic Flute, albeit with more flight- than light-heartedness.
Though the word 'love' does not appear for many pages, this is above all a tale of a most unlikely affair. Other reviewers have commented on the theological content, and the necessity of Calvinist predestination to maintain the dynamism of the unlikely pairing. But I disagree. The grace to which Jack grudgingly admits that he is beholden - despite, and because of, his thieving, drunken, and apparently weak character - is that of the human spirit, held in the palm of an ultimately loving universe.
Robinson inverts the usual power-relationships: the white man is poor and feeble, his black girl-friend brave and well-employed; her black father is formidable, his father is endlessly forgiving. However, the racial context is secondary and under-played. The gripping central dynamic takes place inside the head of Jack Boughton, from whose perspective the story is told: does he, should he, dare to believe that this accomplished, sensitive young lady can love him? And can he, ought he - a disreputable wastrel whose very presence will destroy his loved one's career and prospects - give her up?
There are marvellous scenes besides those between Jack and Della. For example, when the kind librarian makes a connection with Jack; when Della’s sister Julia tries to make Jack angry so that she can dismiss him; or when the boarding house lady in Chicago discovers that Jack’s ‘wife’ is black.
The story is almost timeless, in a literal sense. There are a few bus trips and one mention of Fred Astaire, but generally the novel could be taking place in the segregated USA any time between about 1870 and about 1960, though doubtless eagle-eyed readers will find many small pointers to the actual setting of about 1950.
On the downside, the descriptions of Jack’s internal thought and feeling processes lose momentum when he is not interacting with Della. Equally, Jack’s scruples and ceaseless introspection seem too fine for a drunk whose first instincts on entering a shop are to steal what he can. There is some exploration about why Jack is so morally (if charmingly) feeble, but nothing convincing. Della’s subterranean attraction to Jack is well developed, but again, I failed to understand why she is so determined to love him (no doubt, she wants to save him, and they connect intellectually, but is that enough?). Finally, the last 100 pages lack the freshness and sense of discovery of the first 200: they are in a sense repetitive scenes of Jack’s passive closeness to Della, though there is a fascination in knowing if they will stick together or not.
Overall, Robinson shines like no other in her dialogue and the quick thoughts that float in Jack’s mind as he speaks. There are magnetic layers of sensitivity in her creative, clandestine verbal combats. But this fourth novel in the series is weaker in psychological convincingness. Gilead and Lila are less daring but more successful, in my view.