Saturday, 25 October 2014

Return to Gilead

Prairie had come into the fields and the orchards again and there were sunflowers growing in the road between the ruts. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Look forward to hearing Marilynne Robinson talk about her new novel Lila at the Sheldonian in Oxford next month. If any book bloggers are going do let me know and maybe we can meet for a coffee - or something stronger! Lila is the third of three novels set in Gilead a fictional small town in Iowa. Each novel beautifully evokes the light, the trees, the flat landscape and the flora 'bee balm and coneflower and bachelor’s button and sweet pea.’
 

In Gilead the first novel the narrative is relayed in the form of a letter from minister, John Ames, to his young son to be read after his death. He writes of his cantankerous grandfather, also a minister who was active in the Civil War, his life with his wife, young son and family cat, Soapy, and his fears that he will soon die and leave them. He also writes of his struggle as a Christian to contain his dislike for the troubled son of his friend who resurfaces after twenty years and causes ripples of unease.
A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time can destroy more than you would imagine. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
There is a gentle homespun humour in Gilead. When John Ames’ mother consults a home health care manual advising people not to read when their feet are cold his grandfather replies that if you couldn’t read with cold feet their wouldn’t be a literate soul in the state of Maine!
 
Lila the new novel is dedicated to Iowa and gives us the story of Lila’s life. From Gilead we know that she is the second wife of minister John Ames and mother to his young son. We know that John Ames fell in love with her after she wandered into his church from the rain. We also know that she is much younger than her husband and deeply self-conscious about her lack of education.
 
As a child just before Great Depression she is unwanted and abused. Flea-ridden and filthy she is taken from her home by a drifter called Doll who nurses her back to health and names her Lila. The two of them join a band of migrant workers moving through towns and villages, finding work where they can and sleeping under the stars with the Dust Bowl storms making it hard to survive. We know little about Doll other than that she has a scarred face, a knife for protection and she adores Lila. When Doll finally needs to use the knife she has to disappear and Lila is forced to join a brothel. Unable to stand working there she hitches a ride to Gilead.
 
It’s a beautiful novel. I’m hoping there may be more novels from Gilead, particularly the back story of Glory, daughter of John Ames’ friend Boughton and one of my favourite characters in the trilogy.

13 comments:

Anbolyn said...

I loved Housekeeping, but I've never read any of the Gilead books. Do they need to be read in order? I saw the Sheldonian when I was in Oxford a few weeks ago, but I didn't get to go inside. It seems like a beautiful venue in which to hear such a fascinating writer. I hope you enjoy it and that you'll tell us all about it.

Audrey said...

I've never read her! But I was just thinking yesterday how odd it is that I usually only get to meet characters again and again in murder mystery series, and wouldn't it be good to find more of this in fiction!

Bellezza Mjs said...

Wish I could meet you for a cup of tea! This is one of the down sides of living in the States, when so many blogging friends (and wonderful publishers!) are in the UK. I haven't read much of Robinson, but the photograph in your sidebar by Dorthea Lange, and the bits in your post about the Dust Bowl, remind me of a wonderful historical fiction novel you may also enjoy: Mary Coin is the name of it, telling the imagine story of the migrant family in the photo.

Sunday Taylor said...

This book sounds wonderful and is definitely on my TBR list. How lucky that you get to hear her speak. And in Oxford! One of my favorite things is to hear writers talk about their books. Enjoy and please share the experience with us!

Penny O'Neill said...

I am eagerly anticipating reading this, more so now after your review. I loved, still think about, the first two books and it sounds like this just keeps weaving the words together. :)

Peggy Ann said...

I got Gilead as a Christmas gift from my pastor boss one year and never did get around to reading it. I think I passed it on unread. I have the second in the series now though. I will have to get Gilead again and start there.

Amy said...

Just went the library and picked up Gilead. Thanks for the review!

JoAnn said...

Housekeeping was a wonderful novel, but I've never read any of these books... despite having Gilead on my shelf for the past couple of years. What am I waiting for??

StuckInABook said...

It's a beautiful novel, and makes me want to go and re-read Gilead to find out why I thought Lila was so very different!

I am still not sure about the event in Oxford - I'm in London during the day, but thinking about trying to get back in time for it (and, if so, could certainly have a drink afterwards, which would be lovely, but wouldn't be back in time to do so before.) But I suppose it might be sold out anyway?

Kat said...

I loved Gilead and Home and am looking forward to Lila. I heard Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa City Book Festival last month, and it is definitely the best literary event I've been to in years. I'm sure you'll enjoy seeing her at Oxford.

Vintage Reading said...

Anbolyn, hi, yes I think you probably do need to read them in order - Gilead is the best!

Audrey, now murder mystery is a subject I know very little about! (But, yes, Dorothy L Sayers, had the same characters throughout!)

Bellezza, one day we wil have that cup of tea! Thanks for the reading recommendation!

Sunday, I do love Oxford! Yes at one time I used to love to go and see bands, now it's writer! Must be an age thing ...

Penny, yes, Gilead is the best of the three!

Peggy Ann, I adore Gilead. You must read it again!

Amy, hope you enjoy it, please review!

Simon, yes, Lila is a very different novel to Gilead and Home is different again, strange but it works!

Kat, Iowa City Book Festival sounds fabulous, so many talented writers have come from Iowa.

Arti said...

What a privilege to see Marilynne Robinson in person! I just finished this book last week, so I've been preparing a post on this as well. Good to see your perspective on the Gilead books. I've enjoyed them all, and Housekeeping too.

Vintage Reading said...

Hi Artie, will be checking our your Lila post!