Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Okay, so my sister, Jenfari, gave me this book maybe 2 years ago. And I started it. And I put it down, in favor of more exciting books. And then I picked it up again, and I put it down. And normally, when I have this much trouble getting into a book, I give up, because, you know, life is too short to waste on nap-inducing fiction. (I feel like non-fiction is often worth ploughing through, pillow-drool or no.) Usually. But Gilead is so beautifully written, that some passages, boring or not, needed to be read aloud, for the sheer pleasure of the language. So I decided, enough circling my big toe in the shallows of Chapter 3, and I cannonballed in. 

And I was still pretty bored. 
But I am happy I finished it. 

And I would recommend it to you. Heartily, even! If you love yourself a perfectly written novel, with no nastiness at all. Which is very rare in modern literature, as you probably well know. The Venn diagram of perfectly written modern novels and no nastiness would intersect at Gilead. And maybe a few others. I can't think of any, right at this moment. 

Now that I think of it, it feels a lot like C.S. Lewis, actually. But prettier. Like C.S. Lewis poetry. Except, stream-of-consciousness narrative, and not poetry. Glad I cleared that up.

You're welcome.

I asked Jenfari, and she said she doesn't know what I am talking about. She wasn't bored at all. She thought there was plenty of plot. She totally hearted it.

Summary: The premise is that an old minister is about to die, and is writing a lengthy letter to his young son, who will not remember his father when he grows up. So the old man sets out to explain himself, and some of his history, and his family's history. And he wanders a lot, from one subject to another. And he talks about religion, and about his faith. And it is nice. 

So nice, in fact, that somebody gave it a Pulitzer Prize. In 2005. 

This is not a beach read. But worth it. I kept marking passages that really spoke to me, and I never do that. Except in the scriptures.

Let me give you an example:
I feel sometimes as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition compared to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.
I know. Fantastic, right? Seriously, I'm getting all weepy. 

So, have you read it? Or anything else by this author? Or something else fantastic lately, that I can buy on Amazon used books for one cent plus shipping? Please discuss.


  1. I just saw someone recommend Gilead on a different blog so I'll have to check it out. I loved the last two books I read, "She Got Up Off the Couch" (I know that should really be underlined) by Haven Kimmel (sequel to "A Girl Named Zippy", also great) and "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society". Both very well written,funny, and clean (hard to find these days).

  2. I've had this one sitting in my top-priority bookcase pile (to be differentiated from my actually-about-to-read bedside table pile) for about two years. Next time I want some serious beauty I will check it out. I've also read Robinson's Housekeeping, which is more about women, but that was twenty years ago. I'm pretty sure that it still holds up, though.

    I like the idea of book blog. I keep wanting to start a book club, out here in the English countryside, but I'm having trouble meeting people who actually like to read!

  3. I don't want to be a downer b/c I am a huge fan of all things Kelly B--but the word you typed in the quote--well, it's supposed to be "ballad" and it's not. It's something that might invoke something you might not like. For example, it might remind you of the jr mint episode since jr mints are round (much rounder than your button) and it might remind you that you once felt blind and old and foolish, so perhaps I should not have mentioned it at all whatsoever.

  4. Tiffani, I just read Geurnsey and loved it is well.

    Bee, when I picture myself in the English countryside, I picture lots of reading. What do people do out there?

    Heidi, hahaha.I'll fix it.

  5. Man, I love books. I love to explore the lives others have lived. If you haven't read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and Kite Runner by same author --it is a MUST. The Good Earth - Pearl Buck, amazing. I have sooooo many favorites, but will stop by this site from time to time with my fav's.

  6. "Eh!" to Kite Runner! (Sorry Wendy.)

    But this book...

    I don't like thinking about my own mortality. So it gave me like 70 anxiety attacks. But I loved it at the same time. Because it was read. Definite thumbs up, but yeah...not a beach book.

    Just finished "Goose Girl" (actually a month ago...) Loved it and it's perfectly clean, quick read, clever, and evidently has one or two sequels. Bonus. PERFECT beach book! (in my not-even-remotely-humble opinion.)

  7. Wendy, LOVED kite runner. It felt redemptive, more so than Splendid suns. Most women have told me they liked splendid suns more, because they could relate to the women as main characters. It was good, but to me, about half as good as kite runner. What do you think? Which was your favorite?

    Acte, I guess I didn't really take the mortality discussions to heart, it seemed sort of academic to me, like a Gospel Doctrine discussion. And since I was reading it around Christmas, I kept coming back to the Atonement as the main message I was getting.

    I liked Goose Girl as well, but then I read 'Book of a Thousand Days' by the same author (not a sequel) and liked it more. I really enjoyed the main character. Have you read that one? Maybe I'll review that one, if I can remember enough about it.

  8. Haven't read it, but maybe I will now.

    I did just finish My Antonia and loved it. Since you asked.

  9. Well, as far as I can tell, they walk dogs, ride horses, muck out horses, go shooting, mess about in their gardens and go to coffee mornings. Most of the stay-at-home moms I know claim that they don't have time to read! (Hah!) They do have time to watch crap TV, though.

  10. I also liked (loved) Kite Runner more than Splendid Suns, I could not put it down. Has anyone seen the movie? Do you recommend it?

  11. I saw the movie Kite Runner ---all sub titles. I don't think I would have liked it at all if I hadn't read the book first. But I did rather enjoy the movie and soon the sub titles were not an issue.
    I also loved Goose Girl, my neice Corrie introduced me to Shannon Hale.
    I actually loved Splendid Suns better then Kite Runner (interesting how differently books effect each of us eh.
    Do any of you out there watch the tv series "24". Then you must read the TRUE story called " A long way gone" by Ishmael Beah. About the boy soldiers in Africa. (sounds like what the series this year will touch on)It is heart wrenching.

  12. Ooooo. Books are like, one of my favorite things on earth! I can recommend some, oh boy. Instead of filling up all your comment space, though, maybe just take a peek over at my blog where for one of my resolutions I will be talking books every week, in between really bad movies, or author-type jealousy, or just various rantings--you know, the normal stuff. The latest I read if you're into light, YA girly-things is "My Fair Godmother" by Janette Rallison. *Excellent*

  13. I thought the exact same thing about this book but halfway through, or maybe a little past, it becomes incredibly worth it. So beautifully done.