Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest novelists of our time, returns to the town of Gilead in one of the most acclaimed novels of 2014
Lila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church-the only available shelter from the rain-and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister and widower, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the days of suffering that preceded her newfound security.
Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood of itinerant work. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand-to-mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a lucky knife to protect them. But despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life is laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to harmonize the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle worldview of her husband which paradoxically judges those she loves.
Revisiting the beloved characters and setting of Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead and Orange Prize-winning Home, LILA is a moving expression of the mysteries of existence.
Robinson brings [the story] to pulsating life in prose of great and luminous beauty . . . a book that leaves the reader feeling what can only be called exaltation - Independent
This third novel in the sequence is, in many ways, the most adventurous of all . . . Lila is the work of an exceptional novelist at the peak of her capacity - New Statesman
Robinson has made a world so palpable and full that each book can stand alone...Taken together, these books will surely be known as one of the great achievements of contemporary literature - Observer
Her questioning books express wonder: they are enlightening, in the best sense, passionately contesting our facile, recycled understanding of ourselves and of our world - Guardian
“She saw him standing in the parlor with his beautiful old head bowed down on his beautiful old chest……….Praying looks just like grief. Like shame. Like regret” Lila is the fourth novel by prize-winning American author, Marilynne Robinson, and the third book in the Gilead series. Readers of the first book will recall that seventy-six year old Reverend John Ames was married to Lila, a woman thirty-five years his junior who had borne him a son seven years before. Just how that somewhat intriguing situation came to be: how an old man came to marry a much younger woman, a woman with a very different background to that of his first wife; is what Robinson relates in this third book. As her life with John Ames and her pregnancy progresses, Lila, a seemingly prickly character, thinks back on her life, the events of which are gradually revealed. It has been a life filled with hardship, loneliness and loss (“Don’t want what you don’t need and you’ll be fine. Don’t want what you can’t have”) and Lila finds it difficult to trust her new-found security with John Ames, constantly reassuring herself that she can leave at any time and go back to what she had before, although she is loathe to hurt him (“Maybe I can teach him a new kind of sadness. Maybe he really does care whether I stay or go”). It seems an unlikely match but as Lila reads the Bible and challenges John with all sorts of difficult questions about life, it becomes apparent that both parties benefit from the union. She muses “What would I pray for, if I thought there was any point to it? Well, I guess the first thing would have to be that there was some kind of point to it” and eventually finds that his care “was nothing she had known to hope for and something she had wanted too much all the same. So too much happiness came with it, and happiness was strange to her.” This is a novel with some beautiful descriptive prose (“She had never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of town, all their names spelled out so you’d know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place” and “….the fields looking so green in the evening light…Every farmhouse in its cloud of trees. There is a way trees stir before rain, as if they already felt the heaviness”), as well as many words of wisdom (“Any good thing is less good the more any human lays claim to it” and “Thinking about hell doesn’t help me live the way I should”). This moving and thought-provoking novel, National Book Award Nominee for Fiction 2014, is a heart-warming read. With thanks to TheReadingRoom and the publisher for this copy to read and review.
Marilynne Robinson is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Women's Prize for Fiction and she has twice been nominated for the International Booker Prize. In 2013 she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Obama. She lives in Iowa.