Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars – now revised to 4

I had heard ‘great things’ about his book so I confess that I was initially disappointed at the apparent lack of ‘big ideas’ or anything like a plot. Indeed I found it hard to grasp to begin with, so had to read the first 50 or so pages again to separate out in my mind the four generations – John Ames the narrator, his father, his grandfather and his own son, to whom he is writing his journal.

This book has the air of a reverie – it is the musings of a pastor in his late seventies, who has always lived in Gilead and who took on the ministry of his father (when he didn’t come back from a holiday.). So it is reflective and ‘slow’, and memories are teased out as a fuller of explanation of how things are is slowly built up.

The major ‘dramatic tension’ is the arrival of his best friend’s prodigal son late in the book- and the implicit threat to the affections of Ames’s wife and child. The author allows us to follow the wrestling in his spirit as he weighs how best to be gracious to the ne’er-do-well.

It is well-written with some lovely poetic passages; another book (like Olive Kitteridge – but even less dramatic) that captures the ebb and flow of everyday life. And this time with a decidedly Christian perspective.

I have just re-read Gilead (Feb 2021) and then this review. I entirely endorse what I previously wrote (!) but was struck on this reading how much ‘spiritual reflection’ there is in this; I expect a non-Christian / lay person might be impatient with the lack of plot and paucity of dialogue. Strangely I think the book reads better as a book than as an e-book.

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