Home – Toni Morrison

There are some authors who have such a presence in the literary world that it can actually put you off reading them, Toni Morrison has always been one such author for me. I have heard so many people talk about her work, in particular with reference to ‘Beloved’, and how amazing her writing is that I have always feared I might pick a novel of hers and simply not ‘get’ it. Yet, as I am sure you all know, sometimes life throws these authors and their books in our paths. I ended up being sent ‘Home’, Morrison’s latest novella, by We Love This Book to review and so, with slight trepidation, I finally got around to reading my first Toni Morrison work.

Chatto & Windus, hardback, 2012, fiction, 160 pages, sent for review by We Love This Book

In the very first chapter of ‘Home’ we are given a flashback of something horrific happening in a young man’s childhood sometime in the past. In the second we join him (well we assume it is him) as he lies trying to work out his escape from a psychiatric ward in the 1950’s. It is in these two brief and instant portraits of a character that we meet our narrator, 24 year old Korean War veteran Frank Money and instantly we want to know more about him. What happened in his childhood that he barely comprehends and yet leads him to drink? Why is he locked in a psychiatric hospital and why must he escape at any cost? It’s this style of mysterious, yet very restrained, prose that makes us as the reader almost unable to put ‘Home’ down for its deceptive 160 pages.

Though a novella, which may lead us into believing ‘Home’ could be a slight book for the big subjects it covers, there is so much going on in the book you can’t help but be impressed by how its crafted. Morrison doesn’t let a word run spare. The prose is poetic yet hard and forceful. Every single word matters, you have the feeling the author has made them work for their rite to be included.

As Frank makes his escape and heads to Georgia, relying on the good will of people, we get further flashbacks of brief, yet harrowing, insight into the part he played in the war and how it’s affected him. We also get to see the darker parts of life and society at the time through Frank’s observations as he travels. These, like his flashbacks, come in short, sharp and rather shocking bursts, confronting the reader in varying ways and providing food for thought from sentence to sentence.

“The abused couple whispered to each other, she softly, pleadingly, he with urgency. He will beat her when they get home, thought Frank. And who wouldn’t? It’s one thing to be publically humiliated. A man could move on from that. What was intolerable was the witness of a woman, a wife, who not only saw it, but had dared to try to rescue – rescue! – him. He couldn’t protect himself and he couldn’t protect her either, as the rock in her face proved. She would have to pay for that broken nose. Over and over again.”

Because ‘Home’ is quite short I don’t want to give too much more away. That and the fact that Frank is quite an enigma really though the novel, you learn as you go and so to spoil that would also be wrong of me. I did really like the way I couldn’t decide if he was a decent guy, completely mad or just dangerous though. But I don’t think I should say more than that.

Darkness and questions seem to be its themes, that in part might be why I liked it so instantly to start with, and Morrison keeps hints of things from the past popping up in the present to keep us reading on. I think that the best novella’s leave you in one of two states; you either come away feeling perfectly sated from the experience or you come away wanting more. In the case of ‘Home’ I came away wanting, not because the novella wasn’t full enough but because I wanted more of the back story in even more detail, but then that isn’t really what ‘Home’ is about. Only the best authors can make a novella epic and, with ‘Home’, America’s only living Nobel Laureate shows us how it is done and gives us a sign that there is yet more to come in the future. Until Morrison’s next novel appears I will definitely be making sure I try some of her back catalogue in the meantime.

Has anyone else read ‘Home’ and what did you think? I would be interested to see how a Morrison aficionado rates this novella compared to her other work. Which of Toni Morrison’s other novels have you read? Where should I be heading to next?

This is an extended version of a review I wrote for We Love This Book which you can see here.

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21 Comments

Filed under Chatto & Windus, Review, Toni Morrison

21 responses to “Home – Toni Morrison

  1. Col

    Can’t help on the Morrison recommendation front I’m afraid. I’ve only read “A Mercy” and it didn’t do it for me. It was interesting to read your initial perceptions of Toni Morrison – I have a similar feel that I’m not up to reading her work and I guess reading A Mercy rather enforced that perception. But “Home” sounds like something I’d like and I’ve read good reviews of it elsewhere, so perhaps I’ll put down my Toni Morrison prejudice and try again!

    • I think its always interesting when you first try out an author who is seen as a literary powerhouse. You naturally have certain expectations and also some fears, ‘will I not get them’ etc, and so it can be a double edged sword. I actually think going in with a novella like ‘Home’ you can get a taster and not fear its too much.

  2. You know, I found Beloved lovely, but I can’t say it stood out, for me, from other books she wrote like Song of Solomon or Tar Baby. Try more. She’s quite good. (I haven’t read Home.)

    • I think I will definitely have to read a few more of her others, maybe I should go to the first next?

      • I don’t know of a bad one! But not sure I have a favorite, either. Isn’t it funny the way some authors’ work sort of runs together like that? Even authors I really love sometimes have a group of books that clump together for me.

      • I think thats really interesting that you don’t have a favourite or a least favourite, just a general liking. Hmmm thats given me food for thought.

  3. Home was my first Morrison novel too, and like you, I was intimidated by her work. I first read her work when I was far too young, and it turned me off. I’m eager to read more Morrison now myself, as I was quite enamored with Home.

    • I think it might be a good way in to be honest, I have noticed though that a lot of people who have read a lot of her work don’t think its as good as her form has been, interesting.

  4. Ruthiella

    Beloved is amazingly good. However, I would recommend reading one of her earlier books first: Tar Baby (my first), Song of Solomon, Sula, and /or The Bluest Eye. I have Paradise and Jazz on my shelves, but haven’t read them yet.

  5. gaskella

    I think I read Beloved when I wasn’t ready for it, as I really didn’t get on with it at all. I’ve been putting off having another go at Morrison for years now – I don’t even have any of her books in my TBR. I really should try again.

    • I think timing is always a huge thing with books, I can think of a lot of the big authors I tried too early on and I just wasn’t quite in the right place for it at the time.

  6. Hi I just read Home, and reviewed it for Bookmunch (appearing soon). Absolutely agree with you about her gorgeous prose. Morrison is 81 years old and still crafting amazing work. I agree with Ruthiella – Beloved is a truly fantastic book, and her other early works are really worthwhile too. Like Ruthiella, Jazz and Paradise are on my read-soon list.

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  8. Paperback Reader

    So glad that you finally took the plunge and read some Toni Morrison, Simon, and that you enjoyed one of her later works. I have read most of her novels excluding this one (which I’m saving until I go on holiday later this month), Paradise and Tar Baby; I think the others are all amazing… Try Beloved, Love, The Bluest Eye, Sula… Any of her back catalogue!

    I’ve been catching up on some of your blog posts. Glad to read that you’re doing so well and making new friends through books (as well as meeting up with the old – Dom was excited to be seeing you!)

    • Hey Claire, its been ages. Next time I am in London I need to try and see you all, I was only there very briefly but was lovely to see Dom indeed. I am better on the whole so I have been travelling more, mainly to the Wirral though, for now lol.

      I really liked Morrison, I was concerned she might be too much for me, but Home was a great way into her work and I do want to read more, so a big thanks for your recommendations.

  9. There are topics you may think you’ve had enough of — racism, slavery, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust — but then you read a book like Toni Morrison’s new novel and realize, as Samuel Beckett put it, “All has not been said and never will be.” Home is gorgeous and intense, brutal yet heartwarming — and could only have been written by the author of Beloved and Sula. Deceptively slight, it is like a slingshot that wields the impact of a missile.

    • It is interesting that you bring up the subject of subjects that you feel you have read enough of. Holocaust and WWII are such subjects for me, yet, as you say, some authors come along and write something that makes you think theres never enough said about it – if you know what I mean? Thanks for making me think about thta more.

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