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Lila – Marilynne Robinson

Lila - Marilynne Robinson

Lila – Marilynne Robinson

I enjoyed both Gilead and Homeso I was always going to read Lila. Here is the blurb …

Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest novelists of our time, returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder.
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, 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. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand-to-mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade 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 Christian worldview of her husband that paradoxically judges those she loves.
Revisiting the beloved characters and setting of Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead and Home, a National Book Award Finalist,Lila is a moving expression of the mysteries of existence that is destined to become an American classic.

Marilynne Robinson is one of my favourite authors. I can’t remember how I stumbled across Gilead (it was pre-blog), but I have been hooked ever since. Coincidently, I read  a quote by Helen Garner this morning about Robinson

I like quite books by writers who respect the texture of dailiness and convey it in sentences of syntactical balance and power. If mighty events occur in these works, they don’t shirt front you, but rumble softly under your feet. Amercian writer Marilynne Robinson’s Lila rounds of her two great novels Gilead and Home into a superbly executed trilogy. Like her characters a mid-western Calvinist lives thrillingly real without a single preachy word.

This is a beautifully written novel – the characters are superb. This book made me think about how we know what we know. At one stage Lila was suprised to hear she lived in a country called the United States of America and, really, unless someone tells you (or teaches you) how do you learn these basic facts? Lila’s early life is one of hard ship and drudgery, but she is content. It is only when Doll and her part ways that her life appears hard to her – she is desperately lonely, but trusts no one (probably with good cause). Once in Gilead, befriended by the Preacher (whom she marries) she finds kindness, but she is always suspicious. Lila is quite a literal character and there are lots of discussions (between her and John Ames) about the bible and what it means. This all sounds a bit simple (and a bit boring), but this is a remarkable novel that will make question assumptions of identity, religion, community and education.

I don’t think it is necessary to read the novels in order, but I think reading Gilead before Lila might enable a fuller understanding of both novels.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/07/marilynne-robinson-lila-great-achievement-contemporary-us-fiction-gilead

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/marilynne-robinsons-lila-an-exquisite-novel-of-spiritual-redemption-and-love/2014/09/30/55f5f318-45aa-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html

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Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

I have read Gilead and Home and loved them both, so when I saw this one I was keen to read it. I think this was her first novel published in 1980 (it won the PEN Award and was nominated for a Pultizer Prize).

Here is the blurb …

A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt. The family house is in the small Far West town of Fingerbone set on a glacial lake, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck, and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town “chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere.” Ruth and Lucille’s struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transience.

It was a short easy to read novel that none the less had a lot to say. Lucille and Ruth’s mother takes them to her mother’s house and leaves them on the porch and drives off (eventually killing herself by driving into a lake). The grand mother takes over raising the girls – she had three girls of her own her all seemed to have vanished. One is a missionary somewhere, the girls’ mother is dead and the youngest is transient. When the grand mother dies two great aunts  (sisters of their grand father) move in to take over, but it is not something they want to do they want to return to their old life and so they set about finding Sylvie (the transient). They advertise in the papers and eventually Sylvie responds and returns home to raise the girls. At first all goes well, but Sylvie hears the siren call of the road and struggles with all of the duties involved in raising children and keeping a house – she likes to eat in the dark, sleep with her shoes and coat on, never wash dishes, cook or clean. The girls stop going to school for a while and no one seems too bothered. Lucille knows something is not right and tries to better herself – returning to school, making her own clothes, finding friends and eventually leaving Ruth and Sylvie and moving in with one of her teachers. Ruth, however, seems lost and possibly what made Sylvie transient is also part of Ruth’s make up. They take to the road and to be fair both seem happy with this choice.

This novel is beautifully written. There is a feeling of light and water – water invades this story in many ways; the train wreck into the lake, the girls’ mother into the lake, the water level rising and flooding the lower levels of the lake. It is about what is normal acceptable behaviour – is it OK for Sylvie to sleep on the park bench (in full sight of the local community)?, do we all need to have a home?, does a home need to be maintained in a particular way? But the best part is the writing – it is poetic, evocative and simple – showing that good writing doesn’t have to be pretentious or difficult to read.

Another review …

http://www.nytimes.com/1981/01/07/books/books-of-the-times-books-of-the-times.html

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Home – Marilynne Robinson

Having read and loved Gilead I put Home on my Christmas list – I wasn’t disappointed.

Here is the description from the publisher …

Hundreds of thousands were enthralled by the luminous voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. Home is an entirely independent, deeply affecting novel that takes place concurrently in the same locale, this time in the household of Reverend Robert Boughton, Ames’s closest friend.

Glory Boughton, aged thirty-eight, has returned to Gilead to care for her dying father. Soon her brother, Jack—the prodigal son of the family, gone for twenty years—comes home too, looking for refuge and trying to make peace with a past littered with tormenting trouble and pain.

Jack is one of the great characters in recent literature. A bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who cannot hold a job, he is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, though he remains Boughton’s most beloved child. Brilliant, lovable, and wayward, Jack forges an intense bond with Glory and engages painfully with Ames, his godfather and namesake.

Home is a moving and healing book about families, family secrets, and the passing of the generations, about love and death and faith. It is Robinson’s greatest work, an unforgettable embodiment of the deepest and most universal emotions.

This novel is about family (the ties that bind), spirituality (in particular Presbyterianism) and parenting. Jack returns home after an absence, and silence, of twenty years. He is an alcoholic who has spend time in prison. His is a lonely soul who hasn’t been able to make a connection with his family – at most family gatherings (even as a child) he was absent. His father appears to love his ‘lost sheep’ more than his other seven children.

This is a beautifully crafted story – every word seems chosen with care. It seems such a simple tale; ne’er do well son returns home, tries to reconcile or at least understand (and possibly believe) his father’s faith and tries to  develop a relationship with  Amos his father’s best friend. However, I find myself thinking about the characters; what will happen to Jack and Glory, will he stay sober? Will he find grace? The characters are beautifully realised; the gentlemanly Robert who has spent his life pondering the great religious questions, Glory a pious, vulnerable woman who has returned home and can see her life stretching out forever in the old house (never able to change anything) and finally Jack searching for something, always disappointing someone.

The Boughton’s are religious – Robert was a Presbyterian minister –  and there seems to have been much discussion about grace, judgement and punishment. Jack and Robert spend a lot of time thinking about god’s purpose  and Jack in particular wonders whether some people are just born  doomed (predestination). Ewen MacDonald (Lucy Maud Montgomery’s husband) seemed to think he was eternally doomed as well (according to The Gift of Wings).

I think this book is fabulous, but I wonder if people unfamiliar with harsh judgemental Anglican religions will understand.

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