Friday, July 13, 2012

Gilead and Home

I finished the wonderfully touching and evocative Gilead by Marilynne Robinson the other week.

The Reverend John Ames is a minister in Gilead, Iowa in the 1950s. He is an elderly man surprised by the joy brought by falling in love later in life and the child that it has produced, and so he sits down to write a letter to his young son. It is a farewell as Ames knows he is nearing the end of his life, and so he sets out to record his life and the current events around him.

It is clear that Robinson has a deep and abiding understanding of and respect for the Christian faith, the bible and many theologians of the past. It could easily be read by anyone and appreciated for the quality work of fiction that it is.   But for those with faith and a familiarity with the bible, the references abound and add a deeper level of appreciation for the book Robinson has produced.

For those who are in ministry, there are also some wonderful gems:
That’s the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. (p9)

Since supper was three kinds of casserole with two kinds of fruit salad, with cake and pie for dessert, I gathered that my flock, who lambaste life’s problems with food items of just this kind, had heard an alarm. There was even a bean salad, which looked to me distinctly Presbyterian, so anxiety had overspilled its denominational vessel. You’d have thought I died. We saved it for lunch. (p144-5)
It was a treat to savour, slowly.

After enjoying this one so much, a week later I moved onto Home, the companion novel which tells the story of Ames’ close friends and neighbours, the Boughtons. This was much sadder, almost too gentle and it alluded to some things so carefully and understatedly that I think I missed some of the meaning along the way. It does not contain as many Christian truths or biblical references as Gilead, but it is a moving, emotional story that is wonderfully written.

If you are going to try them, I’d start with Gilead.


Tamie said...

I've heard so many people rave about Marilynne Robinson and we own three of her books (Arthur loves them!) but I feel like she got ruined for me because I read 'Housekeeping' first and found it quite dark and bleak. I should have started with Gilead!

Camilla said...

Wendy, so lovely to read your warm review of two books which are possibly my favourite novels ever! I read Gilead about 6 years ago I think and it has stayed with me in a way few books do. I read Home last year I think and loved that too. Even tho' it made me sob! I think the way she deals with the subtleties of relationship and family and hurt and pain and joy are outstanding. She's also written Housekeeping, which I didn't like nearly as much. Did you know she teaches creative writing? I've raved about these to several people who enjoy great literature over the years, but almost no-one really liked them. They're not plot driven books at all, very much about depth of character and I think many people enjoy a bit more of a story.
Great review!